“Under the Southern Cross I stand,
A sprig of wattle in my hand,
A native of my native land,
Australia, you f—ing beauty.”
“AHHHHHHH FFUUUUCCCCKKKKK YEAHHHHHH!!!!”
The cacophonous sounds of 12 exuberant cricketers and several hangers-on echoed around the vacant Members Stand and across the famous Sydney Cricket Ground. The media commitments had finally wrapped up, the team song had been sung, and the brethren could now bask in the glory of another Test Match victory. Novelty-sized champagne bottles emerged and the players uncorked them with delight, drenching each other, the tears and sweat only adding to the sweet, fruity taste.
And right in the thick of it was the chief protagonist himself, happily and hungrily lapping the experience up like a milk-starved alley Kat, uncertain of its next feed.
But lingering at the back of everyone’s mind was that ugly confrontation. It had occurred just moments earlier; the grizzled veteran and the heir to the throne had it out, in a packed dressing-room, and it was unexpectedly violent. No one would admit to it, but the celebrations had been soured by this frantic flare-up. Some members of the team wondered about Kat. This bloke’s gone Katatonic! Others thought the scuffle was justified. It was, roughly, a 50-50 split on who was in the right. But no-one was keen to side with either party; for now, the team would play nice and forget about it.
The first player to sidle over towards Kat – sitting in the corner alone, licking his wounds – was his trusty mate Michael Hussey, a fellow West Australian and elder statesman of the side. “You alright, mate?”
“Yeah, no dramas. Little shit had it coming,” Kat mumbled, clutching his VB even tighter than usual. He paused, took a long hard swig.
“Fuck me, what’s happened to this place?”
“Dunno, mate,” Huss shrugged. “But we’ve got your back. Don’t you worry about that. Us old blokes stick together, you know?”
As if to prove a point, Huss gestured towards current skipper Ricky Ponting for approval, who stood at the other side of the room, aware of the situation yet, in true diplomatic fashion, reluctant to take sides. Quickly glancing both ways to ensure no-one was watching, Punter offered a subtle nod and a wink to Kat.
Don’t worry mate, I’ve got you. Pup’s a cockhead.
Huss, like Kat, was an old school player. He’d recently earned the honour of leading the team in its unofficial team song, Under the Southern Cross – a tradition that occurred after every single victory, without exception. But a change was taking place in the Australian team. Gone were the Borders, Waughs, Taylors, Boons and Marshes – and in their place was a new brigade of flashy, marketable youngsters, who appeared much more at ease in a Justin Hemmes-owned bar than a male-dominated, testosterone-fuelled dressing room.
The party waged on for a few more hours. Soon enough beers were consumed for everyone to forget about the incident. Everyone except Kat, that is.
* * * * * * *
Kat arrived at training an hour and a half early, having parked his modest Commodore in an empty SFS Gold Member car park. He liked to take these moments to reflect on who he was as a cricketer – but even more importantly, as a person. Alone, in the car.
Traditions were important to him. He took inspiration from his late Croatian grandparents, who took a gamble back in the 1920s to flee Yugoslavia via boat in search for a better life, where they would eventually bear children – Australian children. A new beginning; a fresh dynasty.
A keen historian, Kat knew that interwar period was a tough one for his elders. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia had less than 10 years under its belt; made up of the formerly interdependent kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, a chunk of Austria-Hungary territory, Croats, Serbs and the State of Slovenes – the outcome was not dissimilar to a rugby league joint venture. A state cobbled together, hurriedly, by administrators, with the expectation that past differences be cast aside; unity established. He pondered how different his life could have been, should he have been raised in such surroundings.
Having gathered his thoughts and a modicum of composure, the devout Catholic kissed his Cross pendant and began his short but pleasant walk over to the dressing-rooms, his enormous cricket kit slung manfully over his shoulder; it helped him work up a sweat, he enjoyed the ritual. In the distance he saw Mitchell Johnson wheeling his own ‘coffin’ over to the sheds, deep in conversation on what looked like the latest smartphone device. Probably an iPhone, Kat scoffed. The latest one, knowing Johnno. And what’s the point of wheeling a bloody cricket kit around. A kit should be carried, not rolled, fuck me!
Meanwhile, he would avoid Pup for the entire training session.
* * * * * * *
One of the greatest pleasures in life, he had always told Georgie, was sharing the spoils of a Test match victory with your fellow players. That camaraderie, the post-match beers, the feeling that you’d gone to war in the trenches and come out the other side, scarred but victorious; that, he told her, was priceless.
And Georgie, for her part, knew her place. She knew to keep her distance when the boys won; she knew to lend tender support in times of tough. When Kat was thrust into the deep abyss, ousted from the Test side after a poor Ashes outing in 2005, Georgie was there lending an ear, saying the right things, cooking the right foods. Not that Kat didn’t like to cook; quite the reverse, he found it therapeutic.
In the days that passed after the incident, however, Kat was still in no mood to talk it over with Georgie. Restless nights turned into weeks, then months. He knew he had many years left in him; he was still fit, strong and agile. And scoring runs – hundreds of ‘em. He could still match it with the iPod-toting, Jay-Z-listening new brigade. Fuck it if I don’t get on with the young blokes, he told himself. I’ll just score tons and let the fucking performances speak for themselves…
Little did he know of the off-field machinations that were already taking place within the thick walls of Cricket Australia. And no amount of runs could stop those.
By Dave Edwards