I'd played cricket as a youngster, of course, going up through the age grades and learning the trade. But cricket gave way to girls, surfing, taking drugs, playing in rock and roll bands, robbing banks, and generally being stupid.
When my eldest son finished his junior career, the possibility of blooding him in the seniors came along, and so I agreed to play with him in one of the lower grades. By this stage, Miles was a pretty damn good cricketer, and it wasn't going to be long before he climbed up to first grade potential. I, on the other hand, at the age of 45, was going nowhere, and was happy to admit it. The club got a team of fathers and sons together - six blokes of about my age with our sons, who were all pretty handy with the leather and willow by this stage.
I remember the first time I strode out to the crease, donned in new pads and gloves, and the most important bit of kit a bloke needs: the box. Cricket balls make a curious, crushing sound when they come in contact with a pair of unprotected gonads - a sound I'd heard once or twice while fielding at slips just before realising that that particular kid was going to spreading his genes in the future only by means of a syringe and a turkey-baster.
Anyway, I shaped up to this young bloke from the Glossodia team who came screaming in to the bowling crease at a great rate of knots. "This feels pretty good," I said to myself as I prepared for a comfortable front-foot drive into the covers, only to find that the bat was still at the top of its back-swing as the ball thudded into the keeper's gloves.
"What the fuck happened then?" I asked of no-one in particular, as the blokes in the slips cordon began tittering. The next five balls brought about similar results, until I was left bewildered at the end of the pitch checking that my bat did not have watermelon-sized holes in it. I realised, finally, that my reaction times were not as they had been twenty-five years before, and, more importantly, I was gonna have to do something about it, and quick. My son, who was opening the batting with me, just stood at the other end of the crease giving me a look that would have withered Don Bradman.
"Okay, you smug little bastard," I thought, as he shaped up to the bowling, "let's see what you can do. Crack! The ball whistled past my ears at Mach 3 on its way over the fence at long on. The next ball he turned deftly to backward square leg and immediately yelled "Come on! There's three in it." I was running as fast as I could, and had just turned for my second, when he overtook me, already on his third run. "For fuck's sake, get a move on, Dad!" he said with an evil grin as he loped, elegantly, to his crease. Meanwhile, I was considering the time it would take for an ambulance to make a round trip from Windsor Hospital with a victim of myocardial infarction on board. Somehow I made it up and back once more before the square-leg fieldsman, fortunately a bloke also in his dotage, could return the ball to the keeper. I decided a good lie down on the grass was in order, and asked the umpire if rest periods between balls had been written into the official MCC book of the laws of cricket.
By the time I'd regained some composure and my stance at the crease, I was thinking that this really was a mug's game. I threw caution to the wind, and, seeing a ball that was slightly overpitched just outside off stump, thundered down the track, kept my bat straight, and hoped for the best. The ball struck the middle of the bat and whistled straight through the covers for four! I looked up at Miles, who was gazing at me with a mixture of consternation, scepticism and awe. It was a moment of pure bliss.
I scored 25 that day, and, of course, was hooked. And so, I soldiered on for another eight seasons, until creaking knees and one rather unfortunate injury gave me pause to reconsider.
I was 53 and opening the batting again. This time I was playing with my younger son, Blake, who was, like Miles, stepping up into senior cricket. He is a very fine swing bowler, and I'd had two seasons of captaining him in the seventh grade, to my great satisfaction. It was a game to see who would go into the finals rounds in first position on the competition ladder. A young, lanky fast bowler, who was all of 6'6" tall, came in to deliver the first ball. It was short, and reared up at what I thought was an excellent hooking height. I went for the shot, was too late, and the ball careened straight into my face at about 120 kilometres an hour. It dropped me like a brick onto the pitch, blood pouring out of a gash just below my left eye, and the left side of my face immediately swelling to the size of the ball that had just done the damage. I was only semi-conscious, but had the presence of mind to call out to the bowler, who by this stage was standing over me, "Is that as fast as you can bowl, mate? Pathetic."
Ross, the club president was there, and immediately bundled me into his car and took me off to hospital, where x-rays determined that I had fortunately not fractured my skull. It took a couple of weeks for the swelling to go down, and I must say the blokes from the other team were very good about it, with their captain and the bowler himself both calling me to see how I was. Two weeks later we lost the semi-finals against the same team, and I realised it was time to hang up the box for good.
I know it may sound silly, but I'm very proud and fortunate to have been able to play a real, competitive sport with my sons. We learnt a lot from each other out there in our flannels, and I hope that their abiding memories of me will include all that great fun we had together playing the prince of sports.