Warm start to the weekend. 8 am and the mercury's already threatening to torch the thermometer. I am on my way to the supermarket to get some bread, cheese, ham slices, fruit chutney, fruits and a packet or two of lamingtons. Standard cricket-issue supplies. It's a home game and I am eager to contribute towards arvo tea. Sandwiches, a (hastily put) bloke's version of a fruit platter and lamingtons all chucked in the back seat of the car.
11 am and I hit the road. Bon Jovi's "Livin on a Prayer" is blasting away on Gold and the day outside looks perfect for a game of cricket, albeit a little on the warmer side. By the time, I arrive at the clubrooms, it's a hive of activity. Teammates making a beeline for the fridge to get their drinks in, stash away the sandwiches, fruits, cakes and other assortment of edibles in the already burgeoning shelves. There's always one bloke setting up the clubroom bar and given that the mercury's predicted to hit the high 30s, there'll be more than a few frothies dispensed before the day is over. The others lounge around the clubrooms, chewing the fat, potting a few balls on the pool table, or trying to hit the bullseye on the dart board hanging limply on the wall. The captain rounds up everyone and gets us moving, some carrying chairs, others a heavy scoreboard and an extraordinarily huge table down to the ground. A few boys walk up to the pitch and start removing the rain covers, whilst chatting about their activities from last night.
"Didn't get home until 3 am this morning. Have a bloody headache the size of a planet" quips a young'un.
A couple of lads run the periphery of the ground, placing the witches hats, marking the field boundaries. Meanwhile, the group standing on the ground wheel in the cart from the shed near the training nets and plonk the covers and ropes onto the cart. There's always one bloke from the team who turns up late, citing reasons such as "Was trying to get some fresh meat at the butchers for arvo tea", whereas his bloodshot and sleepy eyes suggest he was the one who was butchered after a late night.
The other team's arrived by then, blokes hanging around the pitch, examining the 22 yards, chomping on burgers/pies, chatting, texting. Both teams go off the pitch for a short while, while the captains swap team sheets and greet the umpire who's just turned up. He's as eager to get on with the game as the players are, as the sun is now out and blazing away to glory. The SPF15+ lotions come out of the kits and teammates start smearing themselves to gay abandon. A few of us seem to need the protection more than others, lest they want to end the day resembling overburnt snags.
The smell of the suncreen lotion is one of those things that brings me to the ground each week. I associate summer cricket with 3 things - that balmy smell of the sunscreen lotion, the raw feel of the Platypus ball in my hands and the sweet taste of the cordial. You don't get to experience these senses with winter cricket and resultantly, something seems amiss on those wet, cold dank days - it just doesn't feel like cricket to me.
Meanwhile, the toss has taken place and our captain vigourously rotates his arm to indicate we are bowling. We get into our whites and warm up a little bit, jovially talking about everything that 11 blokes might talk about. A few of us have been around the club for light years, and they often have a few stories to tell.
Like the time when this big bloke played for our club in a match near the Parkville Zoo. He apparently was hitting them that hard, one guy reminiscences "Mate, the gorillas were in trouble".
Or about this guy who's 68 years old and still plays fairly regularly for us, prompting one of the funniest guys in our team to exclaim "I reckon he was around for the autobiographical signing of the Bible"!
It's this camarederie, this atmosphere that makes the trip to the ground every Saturday worthwhile.
We take our positions on the field and the umpire signals play.
There's a lot of chirpiness the first few overs and some really wise words of advice to the opposition.
"Look at that shot. I reckon my Nanna could play it better"
"Big swing. No Ding."
"Use that thing in your hands son, not your pads"
At the loss of the first wicket quickly, a really young bloke walks in nervously to the words
"Look at him boys. He's still got that burger hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He didn't think he'd be in this early"
The cordial comes out after an hour and is a welcome relief in the rising heat. Players liberally dip their cups in the esky to quench their thirsts, totally ignoring the warning on the Esky "Do not dip your cups in the esky. VTCA guidelines".
The consistency and taste of the cordial is one of those very important aspects of the game. Go too easy on the cordial mix and you're only drinking coloured water, whereas take a liking for the cordial and the boys feel like they are visiting a pharmaceutical company to taste syrups! A few blokes quickly trundle off the ground to puff on their energy sticks.
The captain has a quick word about our strategy (or the lack of it) for the remaining overs. Fielders take their positions and the game continues. The fine leg fielder walks back to his position, strategically placed close to the walking track that runs next to the ground and is lucky to witness some really fine legs jog down the path. He draws a quick appreciative whistle and focuses back on the game, just in time as the bowler is about to start his run-up.
Around 3.20, the umpire calls for arvo tea. We've completed our quota of 40 overs and have been set a reasonably fair target. The teams come off the ground in now-searing heat and head to the relatively cool climes of the clubrooms.
Meanwhile, some of the club members who usually turn up to assist on a Saturday, have laid out the arvo tea in the club rooms. The spread is impressive. Sandwiches of all sorts. Lamingtons. Fruit platters. Cakes. Timtams. Pies. Sausages. Tea and coffee. And cordial.
Arvo tea is one of those moments when you forget you are here to play a game of cricket. Blokes stuff as much sustenance as they can while trying to debate the exploits of Black Caviar, as the TV is tuned to Raceday.
A few clubs I've played against have some really amazing arvo teas. Mini pizzas. Sushi rolls. Gourmet stuff. There have also been the odd instances where arvo tea was one soggy packet of Timtams (and nothing else), or a packet of chips. Shocking.
The captain announces the batting order and we head down to the ground. The temperature is now close to 37 as predicted, but there's a tiny bit of breeze drifting in from the river close to the ground. The other team is already on the ground, going through the motions - apply some suncreen, arrange those sunnies on top of the club cap, stretching, chatting. Our batsman take their guard and the chase begins.
Out by the boundary, the rest of the team is trying to find some shade amongst the gum trees, some blokes spread out on the ground baking themselves, others chewing the fat seated on the chairs we grudgingly carried down start of the game. A couple of blokes have taken ownership of the scorebook and are now well into ticking off the runs, getting the bowler's names, putting in the extras in their regular columns. As one of the teammates disappears behind a large tree to relieve himself, a gunshot goes off on the nearby athletics track, prompting the other teammates to instantly snap their necks in the direction of the bloke behind the tree and enquire about his wellbeing (this particular bloke is known for his often violent and amusing outbursts). He's still getting rid of excess water in his body and the world goes settles back into its daily motion.
By the time the drinks break comes on, we have lost some wickets and scored bugger-all. The captain is complaining about the lack of application by the batsman, while he munches on some chips, and pushing it down courtesy a large bottle of Coke. Not a very athletic outlook on life with this game.
In last 35 minutes of the game, we are about 70 runs behind and the last pair attempting to limit the damage, as the dark clouds start building up in the north. Batsman no 10 provides some entertainment swatting a few away to the boundary and the bowler is not happy with this. He bowls a terrible one, short and ready to be dispatched, and waits for the smack. Instead, batsman no. 10 misreads the line and pops one up in the air to mid-wicket.
That's it. Game over.
The teams shakes hands, a few blokes run around gathering the stumps, witches hats and get the covers on the ground, before the clouds burst into a song. The captain has a few words to say to the team and we pledge to go better next week.
The teams gather over cold frothies in the clubrooms, and chat away like old friends.
Inspite of the loss, we all know we'll be back next week.
Club cricket is more than a win or a loss. It's more than those 22 yards.
It's about the spirit, the friendly banter, the smell of the suncreen lotion, the feel of the leather, the sound of ball hitting the willow and exclusive bloke's time.
And the cordial.