Is it too early to announce to everyone within earshot that I hit 137 off 146 balls against a bowling attack that included Australian test cricket debutant Moises Henriques back when I was 16?
Probably. It’s also amazingly self-aggrandising. But it’s every failed sportsman’s right to publicly state their association with and against any elite sportsman once said athlete has made it to the top – and to shamelessly embellish any actual success you had against them on the sporting field.
Most people have at least one or two yarns up their sleeve involving a current athlete. Usually, these stories fall into three main categories:
1. He tried to score coke off me in Kings Cross on a Saturday night when I was 19.
2. He dated a friend of mine/an ex-girlfriend/a girl I knew loosely
3. I played against him and enjoyed a modicum of success
Obviously, the third category is the one that draws the most approval. No one really wants to hear your story about how [Ed: name has been deleted on advice from the TPA legal department] was scouring the men’s urinals for “zingers” at Wallaby Bar in 2003 after the Rugby World Cup Final, or that a fringe Wests Tigers player had an embarrassingly drunken, futile crack at your then-girlfriend in the pokies section of Cabana Bar circa 2005.
That stuff is funny, certainly. But what most blokes want to hear is how you hit Steve Smith out of the attack in a second grade encounter when he was probably about 14, or that you – yes, you! – were the 1st XV halfback at Newington College in 1979, picked ahead of future Wallaby Nick Farr-Jones for your superior defence and ball-running.
Of course, the sad reality is that they persisted at their chosen sport into adulthood, while you probably frittered away any potential you might have had. While they were getting busy with skin-fold tests and ironing out their technical flaws with the help of the latest sports science available at the Australian Institute of Sport, you were living a beatnik share-house life in Newtown, or out getting blind drunk in the cobbled streets of Prague, or perhaps struggling through an undergraduate degree in between lunch beers.
But you could have been really good, if you wanted to be. That’s the beauty of not living up to your potential; you’ll always have those tall stories to tell – and you’ll never have to back it up on the park, ever again. It’s cowardly, but also quite ingenious, to stage an early sporting retirement. You don’t want to be one of those poor old bastards battling away in fifth grade into their 40s – unless you hate your wife, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable.
But by staging my own early retirement – through injury, mind you… not because I suddenly became shit or anything *ahem* – I have given myself a free licence to gloat loudly whenever a cricketer I played against back in the day makes the big stage. Perhaps I’ll even lie a bit and say we were mates. Because none of my mates will know the difference, will they?
For the record, we lost that game I mentioned in the last over. Henriques hit 70-odd and they chased down a target of around 240-ish. I was also sadly informed that then-NSW coach Steve Rixon, who happened to be at the game, slept through my entire innings.
Not that I’m bitter, but 137 off 146 obviously isn’t scoring at a decent enough click for ‘Stumper’ Rixon.
By Dave Edwards