It’s never over ’til it’s over

It’s the end of summer, school is back but that’s the furthest thing from my mind as I stride out to bat in my U14’s grand final. Earlier GWB made an under-par 132. It’s a hot day. I’m full of emotions: My determination to win leads a shaky backline of fear and disgust. You see, my teammates have cranked up a game of touch, having given up hope when Harry went for a duck about 40 minutes ago. Harry’s our rep player. The team we’re playing has four and while we were able to delude ourselves that with Harry we were a shot…our hearts sank when his middle peg was sent tumbling. Still, crickets a funny game, and, I thought, while we had wickets, we could win it. My confidence endured.

Harry went at 3/15. We were in trouble rep player or no rep player. Nato poked around a bit but was victim to a slower ball; lollypop to cover. In came Minns, then Leighton and Shauno. Every wicket fuelling GWB’s confidence like coal to a locomotive. At seven for 50-odd, 22 yard witness to the ensuing carnage and our number three, Matt, decides first gear is no longer going to get us over this steepening slope and unleashes a calculated assault on the ‘V’.  But his change of tact inspires little from the other end and soon it’s 9/62. Out I stride. Cue Apollo 13 crescendo.

The truth is I shouldn’t be surprised at my team’s apparent resignation. Since I can remember I’ve filled the unwanted no.11 spot. Sure, a few times, true to the spirit of Have-a-Go cricket, past coaches have encouraged me to bat up the order. But I’ve always been a bowler. This season has been no exception. But today I’m selectively unconscious to their obliviousness. In fact, I feel empowered by the position presented by my team mates. Here’s my opportunity to show them that I’m not like Glenn McGrath and remove the bunny tag once and for all. 71 runs to get. 19 overs to get them. GWS naturally think they have it in the bag.

Matt stands in front of me resolute as I make my way towards him. He’s on 21 and despite my thinking that I’ll have to earn confidence from my partner; he greets me with a determined undertone: “Alright mate one ball at a time.” I save the umpire some time by using the frayed lines on the synthetic pitch to take guard.

The first ball as a number 11 has never been easy. Naturally, the pressure is magnified here. After negotiating my first two balls, one flying tantalisingly close to my gaudy outside edge, I’m happy to be off strike. At first we do it in singles. Regularly we are assured that they believe they’ve got the win. “Come on boys, let’s finish this off” they shout. I help with their arrogance by letting the odd ball go with a whiff of my bat. But I’m starting to connect more and they’re sitting further and further back on their heels. I notice. Every now and then Matt gets it far enough past the infield for us to scamper for two or three, but we’ve banned boundaries. 60 from 15…50 from 13. I can feel the excitement boil up inside me but I readjust my gloves and suppress it with a deep inhalation of oxygen. I dare not look, but between overs I catch a glimpse of our team. They’re slowly peeling away from their game to watch ours. ‘Good’, I think, ‘you don’t want to miss this.’ I dare not say it.

When Matt clean drives the same half volley he’s been keeping on the ground all day over mid off’s head for four, GWB’s frustration mounts. A drink is run out to us and the message is positive – 40 from eight needed. Again thoughts of the tickertape creep up and this time I grant myself a quick smile. GWB can’t imagine the embarrassment that accompanies a loss from here and their bowlers act on a new determination. But they’re tired and Matt and I have been storing up our adrenaline. Matt has decided he can hit anything for four now and I oblige by handing him the strike. Both are equally important roles. In the time that GWB has been napping we have gelled into an impenetrable fortress. 30 from five. 19 from four. 12 from two. The atmosphere is terrific. I can hear my Dad shouting among the cheers from the crowd who are as much a part of this as us now. In the second last over I find myself on strike with six to get (eight balls remaining). The timing of the shot I’ll never forget. Pitched on the half volley outside leg I stepped my left foot out to meet it before rolling my wrist and clipping it over square. “He’s hit it” shouts my Dad from the boundary before it rolled over for four. The shot took me to 21 – my highest score. The roar from the crowd might as well have been that of a packed SCG. On the last ball of the over I stay sensible and keep an accurate ball out to let Matt have the strike in the final over.

I have done my job. Now I watch – a mere spectator with the best seat in the house. We get the runs with four balls to spare. Matt chooses a hairy way to bring it up: an unorthodox-looking lofted on-drive taken from middle stump. But it falls safely. They are shattered. Their captain wipes tears on his sleeves as he walks away from the handshakes. They can’t be blamed for coasting through the middle period of our partnership. Complacency is not an un-expected attribute for thirteen year-old boys. But I didn’t care how they felt. I just knew I had been a part of something special. So did Matt who walked off with 64no. None of us could stop smiling all afternoon. It was a tale to behold. Our coach could hardly hold back the tears himself. We’d done it. Matt and I were heroes. Little did we know it was also the beginning of a winning streak that lasted all the way through the next season.

This has also been published at footyalmanac.com.au which I highly recommend you visit.

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