Everyone has a moment in the sun.
For one young boy, it was for an hour on Xmas day in 2012, when he became the world’s greatest cricketer of all time.
Our Xmas day lunches, like many people’s, tend to start early and finish very late, as there is a lot of celebrating to do. In 2012 it was hosted by the “Youngs” in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Prahran. There were roughly 30 people for lunch, and it was the usual deal: Eat far too much food, and then try and work it off with a traditional game of cricket at a nearby park. On this occasion, we simply played out of the Young’s rear garage that backed out onto an access roadway and a park. We set up rubbish bins as wickets at each end of the driveway pitch, with the main batting crease just inside the canopy of the garage (the roll-a-door was up). Bowling was with a tennis ball, with one half covered with black electrical tape, to create some deviation mid-air and off the pitch. The standard backyard cricket rules were to be observed, including “Tippety run”, one-handed catching off fences and trees, “6 runs and out” for hitting over a fence, and of course, no-going-out on your first few balls.
We had been playing for a while when we noticed a man with his young son, sitting by themselves on the edge of the grassland, about 20 metres down the road. It looked very much like a father-son “access” visit. This was probably going to be their only time spent together for Xmas. They didn’t really seem to have any plans, they were just sitting there shooting the breeze. The boy looked to be seven or eight, and he was taking an interest in all the noise and activity up the road.
So on the next ball delivery, the batsman occupying the crease shuffled his feet, leaned in and deliberately clipped one away down the roadway. The tennis ball rolled up and stopped at the boy’s feet. He picked it up, looked at his Dad, and then turned toward us. He threw the ball back with surprising strength for a boy of his age. The ball fell well short of the distance, but we all applauded, telling him that he had a “strong arm”. That was a big compliment for the young lad. He was very pleased, and sat down again with his Dad, who gave us wave in gratitude.
Strangely enough, the next ball found its way down the lane as well, stopping this time a few metres away from the young man. He was already standing, and scooped up the ball and returned it again; this time running half the distance between us before throwing, so that the ball wouldn’t fall short. The two batsmen were running between the wicket rubbish bins and had to hustle to avoid being run out. Another round of applause.
We asked them if they wanted to join in. The boy’s name was Josh and he was keen. Dad opted out, but he sat closer so that he could be part of the action and watch proceedings.
Now, with such a strong arm, it made sense that Josh should be inserted immediately into the bowling attack. The fielding positions were re-set with 6 fieldsmen very close in, and a wicket keeper crouched hard up against the rubbish bin, with an outstretched glove itching for an edge or a stumping. There was lots of encouragement, plenty of banter. Josh was given leniency on his run up, starting from mid wicket. His first ball lofted in, well wide of the stumps, but the panicky batsman, for reasons unknown to this day, suddenly moved forward out of his crease, and swung wildly at the ball, which moved past his feet and neatly into the wicket-keeper’s glove, to be whipped up against the side of the bin. Unable to get back to the line in time, the batsman was out! Wide-eyed and dismayed, he dropped his bat and slumped away. The fielders jumped into the air in unison, then raced in to congratulate the young hero, high fiving all the way. Dad was chuckling on the sidelines.
The next delivery from Josh lofted in again. The next batman moved in too far under the flight of the ball and then skied it high in the air. Several fielders sat under the drop of the ball with the one in best position eventually taking the catch, and a second batsman was thereby dismissed. More high fives, more celebration. Dad gave a victory salute. Josh was loosening up now, elated and determined. There was a spring in his step.
Josh was now sitting on a “Hat-trick”. Three wickets in consecutive balls is a bowler’s dream. Many bowlers play for a lifetime and not achieve a hat-trick. But for this little rising star, It came with ease. The latest new Batsman was overtly confident at the crease, and required some sledging from the keeper, the slips cordon, and silly-mid-on, just to loosen him up. Josh waited for the banter to subside. Then came his master delivery; it was on prefect line with the stumps, but the ball seriously lacked speed, and petered out into a collection of low bounces, before running along the ground. A classic “grubber”. The new batsman danced up the wicket like he was going to belt the living soul case out of that ball, and played a massive cover drive, but for some peculiar reason (known only to himself) the batsman’s vision stayed well above the low ball, and his stroke only made contact with fresh air. The ball trickled underneath the bat and “doinked” up against the rubbish bin. The crowd went wild; there were now running aeroplane manoeuvres, attempts at C-grade moon-walking, and more high fives. The batsman performed the sagging golden duck walk, dragging the bat behind him, to a chorus of “quacking” noises.
Josh had now been elevated to legendary status. He was awash in the moment; he was “feeling it”, and Dad was very proud. The sun was shining, but there was more work to be done. It was now time for Josh to bat. Now, the bat was way too big for him, but he wasn’t going to worry about technicalities – not while he was on a roll. The fielders fanned out, no-one was in close now. The wicket keeper was well back, too far away for a chance at a stumping. As a fielder, it was suddenly very difficult to see because the sun was in our eyes.
The bowling was slow, and pitched up nicely, favoring Josh’s swing and tracking well outside the off stump. He made good contact but skied the ball several times, however the fieldsmen were clumsy in their attempts to complete a catch, running comically into each other, complaining about the sun in their eyes, clutching at the ball but closing their grip before the ball had landed in their palms. Josh was a “rabbit” between the wickets, up and back with lightening speed, accumulating runs. The incoming throws from the field were sloppy and wayward, creating extra run opportunities. Josh was scoring at will.
Then Josh hit the ball into a collection of thick bushes. I was first to arrive at the scene, and, at first, I stood there over the bushes, scratching my head, not really knowing where to start looking. Josh was tearing back and forth between the lines. I rummaged around but struggled to find the ball. It was in there somewhere. Josh was encouraged to keep running; the other fielders would let him know when to stop. when it became clear that I seriously couldn’t find the ball, a few others joined in the search. Josh just kept running. He had a lot of energy; he really was “feeling it”. There was a series of backsides poking out of the bushes, rummaging around, without success. We eventually found the ball, but in the meantime, Josh had amassed a whopping 27 runs off that 1 ball. We all agreed that it must have been some kind of a world record. Josh was now the on his way to being the greatest cricketer in our collective living memory.
When he passed his half century (50 runs) a short time later, we showed him how to raise his bat in the air and acknowledge the crowd. His face was flushed with exhilaration and achievement. With a “hat-trick” (3 wickets in consecutive balls), a half century (50 runs), and a staggering 27 runs off one ball, Josh was officially crowned as the greatest cricketer to ever play the game (with apologies to Sir Donald Bradman, of course, who wasn’t too shabby himself.) This display from the young warrior was a rare sight indeed, and may never be repeated again in the history of backyard cricket. We told him as much as we all wished him well and sent him back to his father, who stood proudly, clapping him from the sidelines. Josh retired from the game “not out”, which was only fitting. The father and son walked back down the lane and out of view.
We all felt good , but for Josh, it was his moment, and the sun was shining.