A personal story of a man struggling to love his childhood obsession.
Saturday morning, sun shining away, the smell of freshly cut grass and even fresher whites (soon to be not white – thanks mum!), the leather ball disappearing to all parts of the oval or into the fielders hands or better still, the stumps (depending on your perspective). Oh the joys of junior cricket, but my love for the game started well before all that. Like many, the driveway was my first pitch and the wheelie bin my first set of stumps.
Australia has had many “golden eras” of cricket and I grew up, arguably, in the greatest era of them all. Led by Steve Waugh, the late 90’s to mid 2000’s was a dominant period in international cricket for the men in Australian Gold (or is that canary yellow, Tony?). At minimal risk of never bowling sides out with Warne and McGrath nor amassing/chasing huge totals with Gilchrist coming in at 7, it is no wonder they won 16 straight test matches. Test cricket was (and still is) the pinnacle of the game for me. Despite the thrill-a-minute T20s, nothing can compare to the ebb and flow of genuine competition and mental and physical challenge over 5 days.
Such is the nature with professional sports, your favourites can’t play for ever, and thus started the waning of my interest in the sport at the end of the ‘00s decade. My greatest cricketing influence was, in no doubt, my grandfather and his death in 2010 had a huge impact on my level of interest and enjoyment in cricket. A couple of work-induced shortened seasons early in the 2010s led to my first “retirement” (oh yeah, we’re about to go full Michael Jordan here), which lasted three season before my return in 2016, where I had my best year with the bat and stroked a marvellous 87 not out, my highest score to this day. After a couple more seasons, I “retired” for the second time, which lasted only one year before coming back last season. With the upcoming season looming, I’m at the third and final part of the Jordan retirement phase and I’ve accepted the fact that if I choose not to play (again) that I’m never going back...ever.
So, what to do? Where did it “go wrong” so to speak? Why haven’t I been to a game in years? Why do I rarely watch any cricket on TV anymore (it really isn’t the same without Richie, Tony and Bill)? Is it me? Is it the game? Is it the club I play for? I’m sure the answer contains an element of all three.
Bowling was always a joy for me (and I’d like to think still is), I got so much more enjoyment and fulfilment out of bowling than batting. Then, one day, it was decided that I was to become a batsman only and not bowl…and it’s been like that ever since. To be honest, I don’t even know if people think I can bowl well anymore. I always revelled in the challenge to outwit the batsman. It was a game within a game for me. A fun, strategic and mostly mental game. One in which I would normally gamble more than most, but I’d back myself and I usually won more often than not (for a period of time). Bowling energised my cricket (and I always thought I was a better bowler than batsman) and now that it is no longer a part of my game, it’s no wonder my energy and life for the game has reduced significantly. To me, batting is more of a game of chance. I feel less in control and certain, the rewards seem arbitrary, you are more subjected to external circumstances and things beyond your control.
The motivations I have for returning are the commitment to your teammates (which never really leaves me) and that if I play the season I should reach my 100th game by the end which is a nice milestone to have and if it wasn’t for my on-again-off-again relationship with cricket I would have achieved this sooner, but I don’t regret my choices – they were correct at the time I made them. Thirdly, I had the worst season I can remember and it doesn’t sit well with me. A part of me goes “I can’t end on a bad season”, especially when I know I’m much better than that.
However, I have entertained the idea that my time with cricket has come to an end. I’ve had really intense internal conflicts over cricket these past few years (apologies to my family), my level of interest is not the same and I could live without it (and I have). In recent years it has become extremely evident how cricket competes with my other interests for time, and cricket is a game that requires a significant commitment of time to do it properly, and I’m not sure it is worth the sacrifice. Although, do you ever really stop loving your first love? It deeply saddens me how I’ve come to feel about cricket and maybe I’m just really struggling with bringing the innings to a close. I doubt many others would put this much thought and care into it.
So, am I not coming back and permanently retiring from the game? Before this season was even thought of I made decision not to play and I still plan on not playing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there wasn’t a part of me that hopes my love of cricket and that spark of joy will return in time to save me from giving it up entirely – but I don’t know when it will come or more accurately, IF it will.