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.
Second time around, I was more than ready for cricket season, making sure I dragged every morsel of information out of Hayden who was being equally thorough in keeping himself informed. He had planted the seed with old Walshie the previous season that he was thinking of skipping his last season of Under 12 so that he could play under Walshie in Under 14, and left it until July to use the excuse of having second thoughts to justify checking with the club’s long time secretary and junior coordinator as to how preparations for the season were going. Walshie’s response was to arrange for Hayden to meet with Peter Wilkins, a highly regarded player who had recently returned to the area and who had a son who was expected to play. Hades and I both knew of Troy Wilkins since he had arrived at our school and thought he had settled in readily enough, my best friend confirming that Troy’s father seemed to have the same easy going nature.
So we knew in advance that Peter had been confirmed as our coach for the season and when training was to start well before the official letters came out. Since being our last choice for an invitation to my birthday party, Joey Mantari had oscillated between being all over Hades and me and trying to be distant and censorious to everybody around, all of which had not left enough space in his mind for him to acknowledge Troy’s arrival in his class—at least not until the day after the training invitations had arrived when Joey spent lunchtime parading his new “best friend” around to anybody who had even the vaguest awareness of our little local cricket club. Troy appeared genuinely pleased to find the level of playground interest in our cricket team and that put to rest any doubts he might have had about having his father rope him into playing.
A good mixture of old and new players quickly turned up for practice, and Troy quickly showed that he had inherited enough ability to leave nobody with any doubts that he was entitled to a spot in the team his father was coaching from the outset. He and Joey were both quite tall for their age and turned their continuing friendship into a bit of a rivalry as to who could bowl quicker. Meanwhile Hayden and I made sure we got to know all the kids who looked like competing for a spot in our team, the selection of which was made a bit easier when Jarod Kendall finally showed for the second last practice before the season.
At our first game I was pleased to find Mrs Kendall with the scorebook which took my mind back to my previous and equally happy season. I am still surprised, relieved and pleased that I did not ask the questions I suddenly had for Mr Kendall until I found the two of us together out of ear shot of the rest: “I had thought you would be coaching us again this season.” He avoided responding directly, saying that he knew how good a player Peter Wilkins was, having played against him a bit in his own junior days, and that getting one of our old players back was always a good thing for the club. He also insisted that having a change of coach was definitely a good thing as he had gone right through juniors with the same father coaching every season and finished up feeling that he hadn’t been given quite the same chances as his coach’s son had had. I made it clear I had absolutely no criticism about Peter’s coaching, nor any feeling that Troy would get any special favours, but Mr Kendall continued to avoid answering me directly as to whether he had been asked or whether he would like to have done it again.
Back at school for the final term, we were asked to write about what spring meant to us. Of course my answer was the start of a new cricket season—even if it was only my second—I knew I had a lot more in front of me. But I also took the chance to write down some thoughts that I had not found anybody to talk to about. The day after we handed them in my teacher, Mrs Freeth, asked me to stay back when the class left for lunch. She was even perceptive enough to start with: “I think talking about your essay might be more value to your cricket than a couple of extra minutes in the playground.” She said that I wrote very well when I was writing about something that I cared about, but that I had forced her to change her plans because she did not feel it would be fair to get the best essays read out to the class and leave mine out: “I really appreciate you asking me a question that you could not find anybody else to ask, but I do not know enough about cricket or your club to try to answer. However, from what you wrote about Mr Harris, I think he would be disappointed if you were not equally prepared to share your doubts with him as you are to share your happy news.”
I took Mrs Freeth’s advice on my next Monday visit to Harris’s Sports Store, while going to great lengths to explain that I felt it important that the question not get back to Hayden in particular and the team in general, as the last thing I wanted was to disrupt what was already becoming a good season. Mr Harris said he was sure it was an accidental oversight, but that he felt the senior officials of the club should be reminded that such things need to be remembered, and that the right people should at least have a word with the Kendalls. A couple of weeks later, Walshie pulled me aside at junior training to thank me for having been so thoughtful and to say that the club had apologised to the Kendalls and everybody wanted to leave it there and get on with the season. I agreed that I would be equally happy if it could be left there, but that by him speaking to me one out at training, I was going to be asked some very hard questions by Hayden at least, and while I would see what I could do to stall I wasn’t about to lie outright to my best friend. For a moment it seemed as though he had not been listening, and I got the distinct impression that he just assumed that kids below his precious Under 14s would just be seen and not heard, especially with regard to interpersonal relationships, but then something suddenly sunk in: “Blake, I’m sorry. I obviously should take more notice and forget that you are nine when I’m talking to you. I trust it you understand what I mean by a white lie?” “Know? I thought I invented them,” I paused for long enough for a change of expression to show that I really had dented his age barrier: “but you do not seem to have any idea just how close Hayden and I are.”
My first conversation with Walshie had identified issues which were to stay with us for years, but at that point my main emphasis was on stalling Hayden, who left the opening of not raising it till we were on our way home: “That’s for me to know, and for you to find out will cost you ten!” He played cool and patient, but found an excuse to stay Saturday night at my place the weekend after, which at least gave me enough time with him to make sure he knew it not only just wasn’t his issue, but it wasn’t an issue at all any more. One big bonus I got out of the whole thing was that it was as though I had my own private coach as well as our team coach. Mr Kendall gave me more tips and hit ups than he even gave Jarod, but at no stage did either of us raise the issue of the forgotten question again. As the baby of the team, at least in terms of age, size and strength, I needed all the help I could get and a minimum of distraction to maintain my own performances at anything near a level I could be satisfied with alongside my ever improving teammates.