With Motley Crue blaring in the headphones (ooh yeah, when I get high, I get high on speed … kickstart my heart!!!) of my state of the art and ever present Sony Walkman I may not have exactly walked from the pages of the traditional cricket manual. In fact Adam Gilchrist reckons with my massive mullet I looked more like Otto Mann the bus driver from the Simpson’s than a cricketer, but what would a nerd from Deniliquin know?
I remember walking nervously into the dressing rooms for the first time at the MCG and rubbing shoulders with a Australian cricket legends like big Merv Hughes and “Ledge” Dean Jones … not to mention top class players like Simon ODonnell, Jamie Siddons, Tony Dodemaide
I played domestic one day cricket straight away, but I was 12th man for probably the first six Sheffield Shield games of my career. It seemed like six years. Being young and naïve it is fair to say the boys took the mickey out of me. In fact that would be an understatement. Guantanamo detainees were treated with more respect.
In cricket the number 12 is the loneliest number. In Spinal Tap the amplifiers went to 11, but not 12.
From day one it became clear that there was not task too menial, no ask unasked and nothing worse than the Victorian 12th man.
My duties included but were not restricted to:
12TH MAN CHECKLIST
1. On arrival make sure the beers are on ice in preparation for a long night providing personal butler service delivering the little 375ml cans of personality to team mates desperately in need of said personality.
2. Stay in my cricketing whites all day, ready to perform other man servant tasks for the aforementioned players who may have lacked personality, but not anger, spite or bloody mindedness.
3. Take drinks onto the field every hour and every random minute between the hour should somebody bat an eyelid in the manner that indicates a thirst.
4. Remain vigilant every moment for player requests for sunscreen, jumpers, towels, gloves, ice, tooth picks and any other passing whim of the first XI which will be delivered by the batting of a previously mentioned eyelid and if not delivered within moment of such will lead to a dressing down of blistering proportions by a person you will be serving drinks to soon.
6. Should you miss a micro signal from one of these players, say Deano, who may have to wait an extra over for the gloves he so desperately needs you will be scrubbing his pads with a toothbrush or he will sit you down after the day’s play and tell you about his 200 in Madras. Again. Only pausing for breath while you dash off to fetch him another beer.
7. You are Not To Shower, until the last player has showered lest they need a beer. Running beers to showers is part of your job.
8. Make sure the beers are cold.
I remember thinking, between checking the temperature of beer, running gloves, doing throwdowns and finding lost socks, “give me the pressure any day”. War hero and cricketer Keith Miller was once asked about pressure in cricket and famously replied “pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse”, but I don’t think Keith was ever 12th man to Deano or Merv Hughes. That pair were worse than any Messerschmitt when up your, well, you know.
It was a bizarre culture back then where you could be in the playing eleven one minute as part of the one day team and definitely part of the boys, but the next minute when you are 12th man you are suddenly a second-class citizen!
Maybe the lads were toughing me up and maybe I needed it. Let’s face it, I hadn’t seen a lot of the world.
I hadn’t even managed to get my driver’s licence so it was public transport all the way for me around this time.
The 8.30am Springvale train to Richmond station (closest stop to the MCG) was peak hour packed with business people who struggled to squeeze in with their compact briefcases, so you can imagine how tough it was when I lugged my massive cricket bag (coffin) onto the train. And how popular I was.
Once off the Richmond station the two kilometres trek to our dressing rooms was a long haul for a 63kg teenager back in the day when the wheel was invented, but no one had ever thought of sticking it on the bottom of a cricket bag. How could it take thousands of years to figure out that link and why did they wait until after I had bought a car?
Sometimes a really kind hearted teammates would see me as he was driving by on Brunton Avenue and would kindly stop and wait for me to get a metre away before shouting out “make sure the fucking beers are cold“.
Still, I could have copped being 12th man if the humiliation started and ended with the above set of tasks, but there was always more.
We were playing Western Australia in the last shield game of the season 1988/89 season and I remember walking into the dressing rooms after hitting a thousand catches to our loveable but not overly skilled left arm orthodox Paul Jackson to find my cricket gear had disappeared. It didn’t take long to realise that it had taken up residence in every nook, cranny, toilet and rubbish receptacle in the dressing room.
It was like finding Wally. I’d look up and see my bowling boots sticky taped to the roof. After 10 minutes I found my pads and bat in the heater, my batting gloves in the were drenched in our spa … the worst thing was that Merv had gotten a big black texta and signed his name on all my gear. Even sadder Merv still hadn’t learnt to spell his name correctly.
For the next 12 months every time I walked out to bat in a first class game the opposition would snigger and not for the obvious reasons. Here I was, the only person in the world with a full kit of misspelt Merv Hughes autographed gear. How that never outsold Nike I’ll never know. This however was less painful than a sloppy moustached kiss in the ear when you got a wicket.
Cricketers are very routine creatures and Being 12th man was no different. After some time I had settled into a pattern of sitting upstairs in the viewing area and watching the boys play, but trained with Hawk like vision to detect any request from the ground.
Here was a good day routine if our two star batsmen were making a fist of it.
DF 12th man routine (Batting Day)
1. Make sure beers are cold.
2. Grab Deano’s and Jamie Siddons spare batting gloves and caps.
3. Grab coke and peanuts
4. Bring Walkman and 2 cassettes – Pump up (Metallica, Kiss etc) and Mellow (ACDC, Angels) depending on mood
5. Have one TV on cricket feed on ground then WWF wrestling on the Sky channel for a bit of Hulkmania.
6. Check beers temperature
Deano was not out overnight, so I was keen to get up into the viewing area nice and early to watch any potential Deano call. People think the batsmen and keeper have to concentrate hard, but few understand the anxious hyper vigilance of the 12th man: I didn’t want to be even a millisecond late in seeing a call for some gloves or cap lest the pad scrubbing and Madras torture routine again ruin my night.
Having lugged my gear into the rooms I put the beers on ice, did the throw downs and whatever other task asked. Of course my team mates expressed their thanks for my efforts in the usual way and hid all of my gear which I had to find before settling in. The last part of the puzzle fell in place when I found my walkman stickytaped behind the door.
I removed that, grabbed my coke and peanuts and made it upstairs just as Deano walked out to bat.
I watched the first 2 overs with no requests from Deano, so I relaxed a bit, opened my coke, ate some peanuts, put my headphones on and pressed play ready to listen to some hard rock. Nothing, however, happened. Instead of the pounding of drums all I could hear was the familiar knock of leather on wood and Deano telling the nearest fielder how he’d played a similar cover drive early in his Madras 200. I pressed play again. Nothing. I repeated half a dozen times. Each time becoming more frantic. Always the same result. My Walkman appeared broken.
Well I completely lost it and gave the boys a spray “you can write on my cricket gear but you don’t mess with a man’s (that got some sniggers) Walkman”; they were stunned up until this stage most of them assumed I was a mute.
I was in a frantic state and ran down stairs thinking there might be a key piece of my music machine stuck somewhere, but the toilets were flushed, the ceilings inhabited only by flies and the bins empty. The thought of a whole day’s cricket without music filled me with dread. Then I heard a shriek from upstairs. Uncanny how that could happen the second a (12th) man left his post.
‘Shit hope it’s not Deano’, I thought.
“Who” I asked meekly
“Deano” they said.
“Shit. What does he want?” I asked.
”Don’t know but he doesn’t look happy” someone replied
I ran up the stairs frantically and looked out to see Deano hands on his hips looking like he’s been waiting for hours. He was not happy. Mr Teapot appeared to have steam coming from his spout.
So I run out as quickly as possible and I know he is not definitely not happy because normally he meets me halfway, but this time he is standing right on the pitch with his hands on his hips staring at me.
Forgetting all my anger from moments before I clear my throat to apologise but he cuts me off.
“Hey champ,” he says and throws the two batteries from my Walkman at me.
This was story taken for the Bowlology Book for full version click below