It’s the mid-September spring, and the smell of dried-sweat-laden cricket gear will evoke the buoyant dreams of even the most hardened grade cricketer. As a nation collectively struggles to perform in its national game, the time is ripe to provide a deeper look at what determines a cricketer’s success.
Let’s take a quick cultural ‘glance’ at your typical grade cricket club, and have a look at how one might climb its ranks.
Firstly, any attempt to analyse grade cricket theatre calls for a glimpse at a player’s emotional cycle at season’s end. Typically, his relationship to the game will undergo a self-sabotaging appropriation of the seven stages of grieving: hate, relief, peace, restlessness, hope, optimism, love. This happens over a period of roughly four months. Once complete, he is ready for further pain.
Contrary to rational thought, success at a cricket club is dependent upon much more than ‘skill’, ‘ability’ and ‘results’. In fact, an invisible, feudal-like social hierarchy will quietly permeate every club – and you best be on the right side of it. Progression depends on a) what grade you play and/or b) how many women you have sex with. On a side note, if you have a large penis you will earn quiet respect and feel comfortable, possibly revered, in the dressing room. Certainly if you have a large penis you should look to accentuate it.
After a winter in the gym and fractional muscle tone-age, youngsters will sense a good opportunity to move up this social ladder. They’ve probably had sex with some women, they ‘look good’ in the nets, and they might have started wearing skins*. They will pluck up the courage to ask a first grader how they’re going. Much of the youngster’s sense of social standing will depend on whether the first grader looks them in the eye or over their shoulder (searching for somebody better to talk to) while replying. While many will point to ‘what happens in the middle’ as a determinant of a player’s success, it’s actually this moment that is most season defining. In any event, when batting, make sure you yell ‘fuck’ after every 5 or 6 balls. Your self-abuse will be interpreted as toughness. Even better if you yell it after middling one.
In 2012, there is an uneasy clash between traditional and new age sports theory. While professional clubs have moved into this new world backed by concepts such as ‘sports science’ and ‘psychology’, the grade cricketing world isn’t so sure. It’s like the pro-life vs pro-choice debate – take a strong position and you risk alienating important constituencies.
Considering Australian cricket has been relatively rubbish in the modern age, I would advise not to alienate the conservative base. Stick with the old school. You will be challenged, though. For example, the cricket coach at your club may hastily arrange a goal-setting session, or invite a highly regarded sports psychologist to a training session. You are likely to have goals, but make sure you at least appear to disregard this assistance. You may want to offer a passing comment of “this is bullshit, I just want to hit cricket balls” to another player. For sure, go home and utilise the methodologies you’ve been offered – most players do – but don’t do it at the expense of looking ‘soft’ in public. To amplify your hardened approach to the game, you should occasionally offer a public and stern-ish “work hard!” to players of lesser ability/standing than you. You also might consider offering that traditional favourite and instructive ‘think about it’ as well, if you’re feeling confident.
Adopting the feudal prism again, it should be relatively easy to pick out the peasants from the aristocrats at the club. Anyone wearing full cricket whites to trials will be regarded as the lepers of this cricketing society, and as such will be a good target for passive intimidation. If you wear full whites it probably means you’re a ‘park cricketer’. It’s a confusing situation, augmented by the fact that park cricket often fills more column inches than its grade counterpart in the secretly-but-highly-read local rag. Hit an important fifty in a park semi-final and you’re likely to be rewarded with a headline in its sports section – something along the lines of ‘Janda Has Pirates With One Eye On Title’. Cue a free beer or two at the local pub (because you play for them) and you’re entitled to think you could ‘probably make it’ at grade level.
However, the reality is these folk will be relegated to the margins and periphery of the Grade polis, a product of the cyclical disadvantage that comes with arriving as a park cricketer. Doubtless** their Fathers wore whites to trials too. They will be left to find a spot in the ‘shit net’, and it’s hard to get a spot there because there’s usually a language-barrier. Unfortunately they are also generally good targets for insecure higher-grade pace bowlers who, on the premise of ‘easing the body in’ to the session, actually want to take a wicket or feel like they bowl quick by injuring these less-skilled hopefuls.
Let’s say you gain selection in a lower grade – for God’s sake get your dressing-room chat right. Introduce any colloquialisms unknown to the ring-leaders and you will be branded a ‘rare bloke’ or ‘strange unit’ for your entire career. Seriously, this could be fatal to your cricketing aspirations. Make sure you ‘rock up’ to places, and the word ‘sex’ is to be directly replaced with the word ‘chop’. Same goes for any references to cricket gear. It’s not a bat, it’s a ‘stick’ or ‘blade’. Sure, these are only small things, but take this advice and it will make you look good.
This might be controversial, but if you enjoy recreational drugs make sure you talk about the right drugs. Drugs that make you boisterous and rowdy are preferred. If you like to get high, don’t say anything. Only strange units have marijuana as their drug of choice. You won’t play for Australia if you are regarded as a strange unit, unless you are Stuart MacGill or Greg Matthews and dexterously employ the ‘eccentric spinner’ character. Even then you will never feel part of the team and people will lambast you behind your back… mainly for being a strange unit. Above all, listen intently and don’t say anything weird. The ‘current affairs’ theory should work well here. In essence, if your opinion wouldn’t be aired on Today Tonight, put it away. If you’re struggling to create conversational content, talking about sports betting is a very safe space.
Now for supporters. If your girlfriend intends on coming to the game, you must expect your team-mates to openly discuss her attractiveness and proffer thinly-veiled comments about your sex-life with her. A cricket career will demand a reasonable level of disclosure, should you be interested in furthering it. If you have scored multiple half centuries, or taken at least one 5-wicket hall for your club, you may be spared this. I have deliberately not included the scenario of inviting of a male partner, for I have not seen an example of this. Doubtless many cricketers have male partners, or would like one, but sadly they don’t get much of a ‘run’ at cricket grounds Australia-wide.
I firmly believe that one can become a first grader solely on the back of strong political awareness at their club. However, I will make one comment on match-play. If you’ve batted for over forty-five minutes, and have a modicum of sweat about you, definitely call for new gloves. How you call for them is key here. Think ‘nonchalant’. You shouldn’t use your voice when requesting the gloves, even if this seems the most efficient and practical way of obtaining them. Lazily raise your arm into the air, and effect a one-handed clapping type motion. If you’re receiving no attention, you may have to issue a firm and aggressive ‘Boys!’… and then resume one-handed clapping. In essence, this will demonstrate to your team that you are committed enough to have multiple sets of gloves, which therefore means you are good at the game.
Like that bit in the Austin Powers movie, one might say ‘it’s a hard knock life’ as a grade cricketer. In fact, the hardest knock you’ll play will be off the field, not on it. While some might say your social stock will rise and fall on the back of runs and wickets, it’s far more complicated than that. If you can master the chat, the reward is clear. One day, a kid or ‘young pup’ might come up to you and ask how you’re going, and you’ll get that chance to look over his shoulder when they talk to you.
Good luck for the season.
By Sam Perry
*You need to at least have a 3rd grade half century to be accepted in skins.
** Someone’s got to pick up this word post-Peter Roebuck.