In October 2013 ABC Radio announced that, due to new arrangements with Cricket Australia, it would not be able to broadcast ball-by-ball descriptions of Sheffield Shield matches.
It is the summer of 1968/69. I am ten years old, living in the Melbourne suburb of Mentone. On Saturday mornings I read my cricket magazines in the backyard at 6 Cremona Street.
On Saturday afternoons, when I’m not at the beach or selling the last edition of The Herald and Sporting Globe at the Mentone Bowls Club, I might be listening to the cricket at home. Maybe in the shade of the apple tree, waiting for the pigeons to come home. Picturing batsmen and bowlers, umpires and fielders, ovals and cities. Picturing cathedrals, greyhound tracks, cooling breezes, tropical rain, grandstands. I’m only just learning to make mental maps of the fielding positions.
Mostly there’s Test cricket on the radio, of course. That summer the West Indies visited: Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs, and a middle-order batsman, Seymour Nurse, whose name I was too innocent to appreciate.
The radio regularly crosses to Sheffield Shield games, to the Gabba in Queensland, the WACA in Western Australia, the SCG in New South Wales, the Adelaide Oval in South Australia. I picture a pink plastic stencil of Australia, a stencil used for geography classes at St Patrick’s, a stencil with no Tasmania. (They were not part of the Sheffield Shield yet).
The commentators take me interstate as they describe 20 minutes of play after lunch in Brisbane, a few overs of action in Sydney before the national news, some early overs from Western Australia before the horses jump at Flemington.
The players are names, rather than faces. They are in faraway places but I can imagine the bowler slamming a foot into the hard pitch and hurling the ball down the pitch, a strip of grass as long as my backyard. I can imagine, courtesy of the talking men, the batsman replying with a step or two and a flick of the wrist. The men talk about players on the fringes, about up-and-comers, and about state stalwarts. I recognise their names from The Herald and from my cricket magazines: John Scholes, Eric Freeman, Derek Chadwick, Dave Renneberg, Sam Trimble…
I am under an apple tree in Mentone but I’m travelling across the country.
It is the summer of 1974-75. I am 16 years old, living in Geelong. I play Test cricket now. In the backyard with my neighbour John. We play Sheffield Shield too. The Hills Hoist is cover, the Clarke pool – its navy blue corrugated steel dented red – is mid-off. There is no on-side, save for a leg-glance off the hip into the rhubarb patch.
The transistor radio is by the bin at the bowler’s end. The men in their commentary boxes, their watchtowers, are calling the Ashes, Lillee and Thomson pummelling and pounding the English players. Busy as they are with the English tour, the radio men find time to cross to Shield games, to places I have yet to visit, to ovals beyond the backyard boundary, beyond the border. To grounds where Alan Sieler is bowling left-arm medium pace, Malcolm Francke is twirling his leg-spin for Queensland from the Vulture Street end, Jeff Hammond is opening the bowling at Adelaide Oval from the Cathedral end, Peter Toohey is making runs at the SCG, Robbie Langer is making hay at the WACA…
It is 1980. I am 21 years old and living in student share-houses in Melbourne. Living with my head in the clouds. Studying. I play records more than the radio but on weekend drives back to Geelong I press the buttons of the VW car radio and hear that Mick Malone is making good use of the Fremantle Doctor, Barry Causby is enjoying the flat pitch at the Adelaide Oval, Graeme Beard is bowling from the Paddington end at the SCG, Stuart Saunders is keeping Tasmania in the game at the TCA ground in Hobart. And that tropical rain has put somewhat of a dampener on proceedings in Brisbane. I am not in thrall to the commentary as I once was, but in a time of change it’s good to have company, it’s good to know some things remain.
It is 1990 and in the summer before our first baby I am trying to grow vegetables in our Williamstown backyard: tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, cauliflower, zucchini. The transistor radio is beside me as I weed and dig and plant. Jack Potter and Keith Stackpole are talking up Victoria’s chances as I ponder the future. A boy? A girl? A bowler, a batter?
It is 2000. Three children. (A girl, then two boys.) A bigger house. Rooms to paint. Wall after wall after wall. Ceilings. In the mornings music gets me rolling, a paint-flicked CD player playing Lucinda Williams and The Blackeyed Susans and Springsteen. In the afternoons, with tiredness and the heat taking its toll, I turn on the transistor, a Father’s Day gift from the Mother’s Club school stall. And there, sure enough, from inside the palm-size Sanyo 2 Band Receiver, is Jim Maxwell or Drew Morphett or Stacky yacking about spin or swing or seam, about drives and glances and cuts, about state games. Telling stories set in places I still haven’t seen.
In September 2003 we drive to Queensland for the school holidays. We spend most of our time on the Sunshine Coast. On our way home we stop by the Brisbane River for a few hours and then head out of the city. On the map I see ‘Vulture Street’ and ‘Stanley Street’. We pass the Gabba, seemingly in the blink of an eye. I’m surprised at how close the road and the traffic are to the gates and turnstiles.
In November 2007 we holiday in Tasmania and visit Bellerive Oval after a tour of Cadburys. I am pleased to be at the ground but through no fault of its own it doesn’t have the childhood radio memories of the grounds on the bigger island. That pink plastic stencil never told the whole story.
In September 2010 we fly to Sydney for a week. We see the sights, just like other tourists. From the Sydney Tower I catch a glimpse of the SCG. I wonder not only which end is the Randwick end and which is Paddington end, but which stand (Brewongle, O’Reilly, Churchill?) is home, is eyrie, is sentinel for the radio men.
It is the summer of 2012/13. I can’t say I know the names of Shield cricketers like I did years ago. If it’s hot and clear and still I’ll be out snorkelling and, like the zebra fish and the stingrays, I don’t give cricket much thought. But if I’m home before stumps I’ll turn on the transistor and hope to catch a few scores from around the country, from grounds that I’ve laid my eyes on, if only briefly, if only in passing, from a tower or a passing car.
It is the summer of 2013/14. What a father loses a son gains. ABC Radio will no longer broadcast ball-by-ball descriptions of Sheffield Shield cricket, but it will increase its coverage of A-League soccer matches. My 21-year-old son Jesse likes cricket (he will be at Gabba with a mate for the first Ashes Test) but he loves soccer. His phone will give him the soccer scores over the summer but, if he wishes, the radio, the transistor he bought me one Father’s Day, will give him voices and stories, places and geography, banter and camaraderie. It will all be to a different rhythm, for we live in changing times.
I will weed my vegie patch. I will look at rooms that need re-painting. Go snorkelling. I will potter about the house. Hang out the washing. Have afternoon naps. Cool down with my daughter’s daughter in the canvas wading pool. Pick apples from the tree by the garage. And now and then I might wonder who’s bowling from the Prindiville Stand end at the WACA, who’s making runs at the Adelaide Oval, whether the seagulls have arrived at Bellerive, if the rain’s falling at the Gabba.