by Blake Dawson* <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From the Preface to Chapter 1:
If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?
*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.
One thing I was happy to be coming home for was the resumption of cricket practice and matches, and for the first time I consciously noticed that I wasn’t the only kid whose mind had taken a few leaps forward over the summer break. Despite knowing very well who each other were, tossing hard balls to each other in fielding practice and religiously avoiding bowling to each other—as well as trying to avoid bowling much at practice in general—and often ensuring we batted at the same time in adjacent nets, Hayden Jenkins and I had not exchanged a single word of conversation since his slight nod to my outswinger eleven months earlier had acknowledged my existence. He had been in fifth grade and I was only in third—two and a half years separating us in age, although a bit less than that in physical development—but it was less the status barriers that kept us from talking than the fact that Hayden didn’t talk much to anybody. But on that first night back at training all that had changed.
I was packing my kit ready to head home when I could not help noticing Hayden in the centre of what looked like a big argument with the three fathers who looked after our two teams between them. He was doing most of the talking and in the finish they were just shaking their heads. Eventually he threw his hands up and stomped off directly towards where I was sitting on a low wall. He soon arrived: “Fucking jerks.” I momentarily wondered if he had some linguistic handicap, but he planted himself beside me and continued in quite acceptable, if emotionally charged, English: “They won’t give you a try in our team. They have to be ‘loyal’ to the kids who have been there all year even if some of them hardly even show for practice, turn up late for matches and aren’t likely to stick around for Under 14s. No, our little Blakey has to play out the season in the bloody B team—it’s in the interests of his cricket development and he’s such a good influence of the other little tackers. They know as well as I do that you’re already better than half our team, but I can’t even get them to let you and me have these last few games together. Fuck them. Fuck them. Fuck them all.”
To my eternal surprise I didn’t simply collapse into a blubbering love-struck heap, but instead tried to turn the monologue into a much longed for dialogue and get the lid back on Hayden’s uncharacteristically rampant emotions. “I don’t mind—we’ve got all next season to play in the same team.” “You don’t understand. I was going to skip my last year of Under 12s so I could go up with old Walshie where I will at least get some decent coaching. But I also wanted a chance to bat with you before I did. We won’t ever be in the same age group again until you’re in seniors if I skip next year.” I had worked that out early on, which at least gave me a bit of an opening to get back into the conversation—still surprising myself that I was coping at all with this totally unexpected interest from my fantasy lover. My ever more feeble attempts to bring some normal tone into the conversation faded away and for a while we just sat there close together, our sides in pressed contact, but not risking even a glance at the emotion in each other’s face. Eventually he took a few deep breaths and said “Fuck ’em again. Let’s split.”
As we got up he placed his arm around my shoulder, I grabbed my kit and he steered me over to his which he must have packed earlier, picked it up and I allowed my arm to wrap around the back of his waist. We walked arm in arm out of the park and he turned us down the road towards my place. I didn’t know he had any idea where I lived and knew that my place was three blocks out of his way, but two doors from my place he finally got his voice back. “I suppose it won’t really kill me to have another season in Under 12s. We could have a pretty good team and they might even let me be a real captain.” As we hit my drive, his arm finally slipped off my shoulder. My free hand grabbed his finger tips and squeezed them tightly for a moment, but I still dared not look at his face. He had walked on several steps before I called “Wanna hit up the nets tomorrow?” A few steps further he glanced back over his shoulder: “I’ll call for you around ten,” and he was quickly out of sight. I fumbled my way inside and almost drowned my pillow.
My team had struggled all season in the bottom grade, but everybody kept saying we were improving, while Hayden’s team was always going to make the finals of the second top grade—which was still something of an achievement for our battling little club. We had our second win for the season in the first game back from the break which was put down to getting back to practice early, and my freer scoring certainly backed up Hayden’s push for my promotion, although nothing more was said about it. Two weeks later we proved it wasn’t a fluke, and both teams were scheduled to play the clear top teams in our respective grades in our final round. Hayden thought they might want to finally use me to try to get the A team into the easier semi-final, but we both agreed that they had blown their chances of that move a month earlier. I understood that if it came up, he would use it to assert his leadership claims and I certainly didn’t mind that fitting with what I thought was the right thing. As it turned out they fell a bit short and would face a tough rematch the next week, but the tackers had other ideas helped in no small part by our opponents treating it as a training run to fine tune for the finals. Off the second last ball I scrambled a leg bye to regain the strike and we needed four to win. I had hardly hit a boundary all season, and those I had were on smaller, drier grounds through the off side where little kids aren’t expected to have any power. While they had been prepared to play with us a bit, no top team willingly throws away an undefeated record and their coach who was umpiring took a lot of time setting a deep off side field and instructing his bowler where to bowl. I didn’t even notice all the yelling from my teammates on the boundary, I knew exactly what the score was and just kept telling myself: “Hit it. Hit it. Hit it.” As I half expected, the ball was right up at my toes and any other time that season I would have been happy to just dig it out, but my little bat made sweet contact on the rise and it sailed over the close in mid-wicket and trickled through the only gap they had left in the outfield. I was mobbed, variously assaulted and carried head high off the ground. For my teammates it was a bigger thrill than our opponents of that day would get when they went on to win the premiership a couple of weeks later. Fortunately, I still had mum there to remind me that at the end of the day I should be able to get my head in the door of the Matthews’s caravan.
I went to watch Hayden’s semi the following week, and just as he had predicted one of their kids had rung in sick and another had simply not showed, reducing them to a bare twelve which still allowed them to cover most contingencies. Despite playing well, their opponents gradually took a strong grip on the game, then with only four overs to bowl came one of those fluke incidents where two of our boys collided running for a high ball and not only spilled the catch but injured themselves badly enough to need to come off the ground. Our twelfth man replaced the worse hurt boy, and they were going to try to leave the other out there for the remaining few overs. When I had asked Mr Harris about the extra whites he had thrown in my bag at the start of the season, he had told me that the most important lesson for a young cricketer was any time you went to a cricket match, no matter who was meant to be playing, to always have your whites with you in a bag. Seeing this kid really struggling, I called to Hayden that I had my whites in my bag. One of the coaches who was scoring nearby heard this and said to put them on, so I stripped to my jocks in the middle of the park and, ignoring the whistles of a couple of kids’ big sisters, at the end of the over I was out on field. However the die was certainly cast for this match, and the only time I got to touch the ball was backing up a wild return which would probably have cost four overthrows. They cruised past in the second last over and that was the end of my first cricket season.
Next week Hayden and I organised to go together to watch the grand finals of our two grades which were being played on adjacent wickets in one of the area’s bigger parks. I had known for a while now that cricket was to be part of my life for a long time, but on that day I found out why that really was a “good thing”. Strolling in just before the games were due to start was just like turning up at Bermagui beach for the first time for the summer. It seemed that everybody there knew one or other of us, even if they all looked a little different in civvies. Opposing coaches would pat you on the back or ruffle your hair. Opposing players would bump you with their shoulder, toss you a ball or slap you on the bum. In between watching the two grand finals somebody would produce a bat and we would have a few hits playing some version of school ground rules. At the innings break we even tried that on the main wicket until one of the umpires jacked up. Eventually the two teams we had played in those final games both went on to win fairly comfortably, giving my tackers at least something more to skite about, and in those three brief hours the now almost inseparable duo of Jenkins and Dawson had come to recognise that many of our best friends in cricket were likely to come from teams we played against as much as from our own little club.
A couple of weeks later, our club put on a presentation night for the Under 12s. After the mandatory bun fight had been cleared away, it was time to present the trophies. My knowledge of scoring had already told me which of the tackers were going to win our averages, and those presentations led off the program, Jarod Kendall getting the batting and Jordan North the bowling. Then old Walshie who had overall charge of the juniors as well as being club secretary went to some length to introduce Mr Harris and thank him for all the support the club he received from Harris’s Sports Store, urging parents to take up the club discount which Mr Harris offered, and making particular mention of the trophies which he had provided for this night. “Each year Mr Harris makes one award of his own choice to somebody in the club for an outstanding contribution, and I will hand over to him because his award this year involves the Under 12s.”
“I want you all to listen to this story with care and, before I start, I want young Blake Dawson to come and stand beside me because he is involved in most of it. Because of the shop, I cannot get to watch any of your matches, but I have felt personally involved in our new second Under 12 team because every Monday afternoon without fail through the season young Blake has called in at the shop and given me almost a ball by ball description of your matches. The thing that most impressed me was whenever I asked how you went, he would always tell me about the team first and I had to prise out of him his own efforts which we all know were pretty good for an eight year old. After that last game, I was glad I already knew about his shot off the final ball, because there was no way he was going to tell me voluntarily. It would be very easy for me to give my award to Blake, but we all know he will earn plenty of trophies for his efforts on the field in years to come. Instead I am going to what I think he would be much happier for me to do. The new team is a very important milestone for our club. The only two boys in it who had ever played cricket before were fortunate enough to win the batting and bowling awards, so Harris’s Sports Store has decided to give every one of the tackers, as Blakey has taught me to think of you, a photo of your team which Mrs Kendall was able to get after your last game, and a medal with your name engraved on it to commemorate a wonderful first season.”
Old Walshie, Mr Harris and Mr Kendall, who had coached us and umpired all year with his wife scoring and yours truly giving her a couple of overs toilet break whenever we were batting, between them called up each of the tackers in turn, shook their hands, handed them their photos and strung their medals around their necks. Being left until last, I knew it was up to me to thank them. It was Mr Harris who saw the need to lift me up to reach the microphone where I made the shortest speech ever: “Thanks Mr Harris and Mr and Mrs Kendall.” In a daze, I kissed my medal and blew a kiss to the crowd. Hayden stuck out his hand to shake mine as I finally escaped centre stage, but I just grabbed it and squeezed like I was trying to break his fingers. I was glad mum had sat up the back and I planted myself beside her, handing her the photo for safe keeping. When the attention moved back to the A team’s trophies, mum gently dabbed her hanky on my cheeks and I came back to the planet in time to see Hayden presented with their batting award.