Observations, deliberations and denunciations were required, for the time had come to view this champion team - known as The Partridge Family, and see who would be unveiled as part the latest crop of Australian cricket talent. The motive was simple - the weekly chorus rang of a champion team, but now was the time to see if they were a team of Champions, willing to progress to the next step, willing to protect their wicket as if it was their lives, willing to bowl over after over, uphill into the wind, willing to shed blood for the good of the country and in the name of Australian cricket!!!!!!! And in fact this is where I come into the picture. Australian cricket selector Trevor Hohns had sent me on a mission. The urgency of the matter was critical - with the fate of Tugga and Dizzy written on the wall, it was my job to reap from the top of the best crop, to shake the milk bottle and see the cream rise to the top, if you like. The Australian cricket team needed talent, and needed it fast.
When Hohnsy mentioned the word talent, I'm not entirely sure what it was, but something drew me instantly to the Weston ICA on a Tuesday night. It could have been the rumours going around about 8 likely lads; it could have been for the new load of nicknames that might soon be heard in the Australian dressing rooms - the likes of:
* WA WA
* GRA GRA
Unfortunately, it was more than likely the smell of sweet tasting beer (I can't believe I just said that about a Vic beer) that drew me there. Hohnsy had instructed me to make my presence felt, intimidate these cricketers and see how they operated under pressure. The pressure was insurmountable even before the game started - no theme song for the night. It spelt disaster for the night in some eyes, while others felt a bad smell about the game tonight, but it didn't take long to realise that was Gadj after a bout of his spicy Thai special (number fwarty treee on the menu I think). The solution to this lack of sound? - a fine, in tune chorus of 'To the Bar!' with the hope of a VB or two calming the nerves.
Game time was called, the line up settled and my scouting report looked like this:
STICKS - Akin to Greg Mathews with his trendsetting ways. Confident at putting bat onto ball, however work was required on his bowling. Certainly at this stage wouldn't want him bowling the last over of the day with the opposition requiring 20 runs to win.
JASE - The stats man of the squad. His self-appointed role keeps the rest of the team on their toes with the performance, at the same time as telling them how good he's going. Has the mould of a young Geoffrey Boycott about him and could bat through both innings.
DAVO - Bowls from stump to stump, and is very straight up and down (what the hell that means I don't know - I've just heard it before) much like an Adam Dale. Pencil him down to take on Tugga's role at gully - never likes to take an easy catch and makes them look as hard as possible.
WA WA - has played a couple of seasons in county cricket and as a result has developed the 'wooden leg' phobia. Definitely the calm, steady head of the side and you would certainly see him as a good 'right hand man'. GADJ - The captain of the side, although I did have one of the fellas warn me before the game he acts more like 'Captain Caveman' than a cricket captain. Is up there with his bowling speed, and its easy to forget he is in the twilight of his career.
SCHLANGA - Would I need to say much more than 'Coolhand Luke'. This guy makes Ian Healy look like he's on valium. In fact his handy work behind the stumps rates a Bruce McIvaney 'Speeeeeeccccciiialllllllll'. Coming back from a few weeks off and may be a little 'underdone'.
INZY - Has played in the Turban Trophy league in Pakistan, thus the nickname. It's fair to say he could be a candidate for Tuggas spot with his batting efforts, although his running between the wickets leaves little to be desired.
GRA GRA - Most people wouldn't know it, but this fine cricketer is none other than Graham (or as Max Walker would say - Graheemey) Labroy - a player who worked hard as ever in those formative years of test cricket for Sri Lanka. Could certainly help us out with inside information on how to further piss off Ranatunga-downthethroughta (useless prick that he is).
As the first batting pair strode out to the wicket, I took up my seat with beer firmly held in my Chookless Heads Sporting Club wetsuit (sorry - shameless plug there). First into bat were WA WA and Sticks. Realising the importance of a good start, WA WA wanted to show he could play in all conditions and so the shoulders were let loose, waving them about like there was no tomorrow. Unfortunately the wind gusts got up to dangerous levels with the bat creating more of a 'wind effect' rather than a 'hit the ball effect', although he did latch onto one late in the innings. Meanwhile sticks was trying elusively for that Zac, but just couldn't get onto one. The score after 4 overs read 20 something (yep I've completely forgotten the scores).
Next in was the combo of Davo and Inzy. Now unbeknown to most, Inzy was a late inclusion in the side and was to have missed due to a hamstring injury incurred while fishing the numerous number of golf balls he and Gadj hit into the lake on the Sunday. Tonight his injury would be tested. My instructions to Davo were - make him run like buggery. With a rye smile on his face Davo inflicted the punishment Inzy needed - there was no way we were taking a bloke to Sri Lanka when his hammy was about to pop, so we may as well get it to pop now, so I don't have to tell him he wasn't selected. Davo worked the ball a treat - dropping it at his feet and instinctively calling 'YEEEAHHH' while Inzy could be heard up the other end whispering 'Bugger' as he took off for the single. Inzy's solution was to stand and deliver, going back net on most occasions, however he was quickly on the trot again after the close in fielder had collected it off the side net and Davo could be heard to say 'YEEEAHHH' again.
The score now reading 60 odd (very odd might I add) Jase and Gra Gra confidently convened to the crease. These were the two I was interested in the most. Not only had we lost Dizzy and Tugga, but Blewy, that useless South Aussie (oh, whoops, err I think he was originally from Victoria???) was finding it difficult at the top of the order. Jase appeared the obvious replacement, while Gra Gra's experience on slow, dry (in fact cement) brown carpet would be invaluable. After the first few overs, Gra Gra was buggered - I think I need to now change my original scouting report to describe Jase as a Geofrey Boycott on steroids. Not only can he make his bat the width of Homer Simpsons arse, he can drop 'em and take off for the single quicker than Boonie could in his heyday. We'd hit the 13 over mark and the score was 83 (yep, that's a guess).
Finally, this exhausting innings was to close with Gadj and Schlanga adding to the total. Schlanga, looking a little rusty from his 'sex' tour to Fiji, took up the strike. What I then saw was true professionalism from the man. Having been completely beaten 'neck and crop' by some slow nude bowling (I think he swung about 2 feet outside the line of the ball), he remained calm and unfazed. Despite the sledging from his fellow team members, despite the ump laughing hysterically into his microphone, despite the bowler coming up to him to offer his apologies, Schlanga was completely unmoved - a slight adjustment of the box, and a few steps down the wicket to pat at a clump in the carpet was the only reaction. Until he realised he was out of his crease and the bowler was trying to get a shy at the stumps in. Phew - welcome back to cricket Schlanga! Unfortunately things didn't get any better for Schlanga - he was seeing the ball like the testicle of a Bilby. Meanwhile Gadj down the other end, hampered by a stitch from laughing so much pushed the majority of the score alone until it read 118 at the end of the 16th over.
At orange time (well that was the opposition anyway) the Partridge had set themselves up for a good win. It was during the break I took a call from Hohnsy who wanted to know how I was going. I confidently muttered to him (so as none of the prospects could hear), that I had already made my decision even though we were only halfway through the game. I told him I would call him later.
After I hung up the game had recommenced. Despite my admission to Hohnsy, I was still keen to make sure I had made the right decision and watched the fielding performance with much interest. Of course I would hate to see another terrible collision similar to Tugga and Dizzy - it was such a sickening clash. I was also mindful of the fact that it was me over there in Sri Lanka who was about to slam the door on the makeshift ambulance while Dizzy's broken leg was still half hanging out the back of the vehicle. It almost cost me my job and I'd hate to make the same mistake here again.
It didn't take me long to realise that this would not occur. In fact it was like a circus where everyone would keep their eyes peeled on the guy going for the ball, and then laughter would erupt as the clown got nowhere near getting that yellow round thing to stay in his hands. The fielding performance tonight was to be, to say the least, sub-standard. I can not help but think that a lack of background music had interrupted their performance, that perhaps my presence had lifted to pressure of an everyday weeknight game, but as it was clearly explained to me later, the fellas just hadn't had enough beer to drink before and during the game.
Despite the fact, the team was certainly in the game with 8 overs down. Inzy bowling off his two hop run-up was hitting the pitch mighty hard, while Schlanga's 'stop and prop' delivery was slightly off the radar this night. The game was in the balance for the final 8 overs. I was mindful of the effect the aura of The Partridge Family had on their opposition during the game. They opposition had previously walked off heads down after their poor fielding effort and after batting efforts from the Geoff 'Raider' George lookalike and the S.Hark lookalike, they found themselves doing what ever they could to keep their minds off the game - I think one of them cracked open a game of Tiddywinkles, which was most surprising. It wasn't until the last over when I heard another peep out of them when I heard them arguing over how many they needed to get in the last over to win. 'There's 8 balls left and we need 7 to win' quipped one tool. 'No, there's six balls left and we need 10 runs to win' remarked another squid. With fear of my temper becoming frayed, I looked at the scoreboard and the game had been won. Gadj bowled a fine last over (although admittedly not as good as Sticks from the other week) to get hit for plenty and they won by about 6 runs. Great work Gadj.
In the washup of it all, the guys did look disappointed. They knew they needed to be 'on' tonight. They knew it was a chance to make a name for themselves, but unfortunately they found no joy in a loss. Gadj was keen to prove a point, he wanted the lads to show that they can play some fine, intelligent cricket. He wanted to prove a point. He wanted another game to be played. There was much scurrying here and there to organise 8 players to go another round against the Partridge Family. About 5 minutes later Gadj came back - he had 8 players, at which point the call came over our shoulder 'OI, are you guys going to play'. The scratch match had been organised earlier and there were already 8 blokes out on the court. Having seen this, the call of 'Fuckoffski' was given by Gadj, and these 8 other dejected players strolled out of ICA with their heads hung low. Gadj was cursing because it had just cost him 8 beers to get them to play.
Not wanting to be put through the torture of another game, Sticks and WA WA headed off for the night, fearing the had done their dash in the hopes of donning the baggy green cap. Before they could go, I gathered the hopefuls in as a team to let them know who would replace Dizzy and Tugga. After hearing of the hype surrounding these games, after reading jurnos on the team known as the Partridge Family, after partaking in a beer with the lads before the game and watching the first 16 overs, I had come to the conclusion that I would select with my head, instead of my heart and had decided to resurrect Warwick Todd's career (once again) and send some useless backyarder, cane growing, banana bender from Queensland through the torture of the 23 hour flight to Sri Lanka. Why do I hear you ask??? (OK, I know you're not, but I'll tell you anyway) Because Weston ICA needs these guys as much as the Australian cricket team would love to. But I fear it would be an impossible task to drag just one or two of them away from the team and short of asking Johnny Howard himself to throw a couple of bucks our way, I don't think the ACB could afford the expense - the beer tab would be enormous.
With that decision off my back the lads went out and played the scratch match. And just for the record they lost to what I believe was close to an A grade side by about 5 runs, after they batted, bowled and fielded out of their arse for most of the 32 overs bowled. It's amazing what pressure does to you.........
Disclaimer - The author of this article takes complete responsibility for forgetting the scores of the game (at least I know the Partridge did lose), plus having no idea as to who batted with who.