Kyle is fifteen and Harry is thirteen and they both play cricket at the same club. This Saturday Kyle is debuting in the firsts senior team. Harry is playing in the eights senior team with his Dad and older brother. Both look forward to a big day of cricket.
Kyle often plays over five games a week in the summer holidays. He plays in the district representative teams and in the games for those boys who are bound for district cricket. Some of those he plays alongside could be future players in district, state and international cricket.
Harry plays in the Friday evening and Saturday morning junior competitions. Harry's older brother plays in the same junior team as Kyle. Harry has only played in the senior team since December, filling in when they were short. Harry bowled well and has continued to do so since.
So lets get the suspense over with. Neither kid had a great day. Kyle's Mother and Grandparents watched from the veranda of the clubrooms riding every ball he faced. Kyle got bowled for 16 as the firsts made less than 150 runs. Defendable but not a great lead going into the second day of a two day match.
Harry bowled four overs 1/54. A good return for a thirteen year old playing against men. However Harry plays in a split innings competition. Each team gets to bat and bowl 36 overs each day. So eventually Harry has to bat against this team today which is not great. Because the opposition has players dropped down from higher grades.
You may say, this is part of growing up and learning to play against men. Kyle is doing the same thing in the first team. But there is a distinct difference. Kyle knows and trains against talented kids regularly. Harry plays against the best in the under fifteens but not a whole team of them. Kyle's Dad has made Kyle face adults bowling to him since he was nine. There is no fear of getting hit in Kyle. Harry however is not familiar with a ball this fast.
Of course the worst does not happen to Harry. He does not get hit by the ball and the bowlers were not bowling to hurt. Though they did bowl to intimidate. A few short balls outside off are followed by a quick yorker which Harry blocks out. His Dad is at square leg, the captain is umpiring. Harry is holding up but only just.
Harry's Dad offers encouragement at the change of overs. He does not umpire while his kids are batting. After all blood is thinker than water. The inevitable occurs and during the next over Harry is caught behind flailing at a short ball. At the end of their overs the eights are sixty runs behind with three wickets remaining. The match is not yet over as there is another day of this humiliation to go.
Back at the club the eights captain and Harry's Dad discuss what happened. Kyle and Harry are still playing in the nets with the other kids. Kyle's Dad arrives from his game and is congratulated on a good debut for Kyle. He replies that Kyle's Grandmother was texting him ball by ball coverage. Which he could not read because he was wicket keeping all day. Kyle's brother bowled well taking three wickets.
When Kyle's Dad asks how the eights went a cold silence is punctuated by a snarl of contempt. Harry's Dad begins positively, that Harry bowled well and no one dropped a catch. Its that moment when the eights captain erupts.
“They played blokes from F and G grade in J grade. What do you think happened? We're sixty runs behind and they bowled short to the kids. There's another whole day of this $#!%. And the only comfort is that its not gonna take long cause we're batting first.” He pauses and then adds.
“That's the way to get a premiership in J Grade. Monster a team of old men and kids! How do you expect a kid to want to keep playing?”
Harry's dad then tells those gathered that Harry's older brother who has played the last two years in the eights is thinking about playing basketball nest season.
“I don't blame him.” replies the Eights Captain. “But we'll miss him. Shows promise as a future keeper batsmen. The sixes were interested in trying him out for a few games next year.”
The men continue to eat sausages from the BBQ and drink from the limited supply of alcoholic drinks available. Eventually it gets dark and the fathers take reluctant children home. The questions are never resolved. The argument is one that even the association cannot fix. It is one that plagues clubs in many sports. All it does is whittle away the pool of current and future players.
It comes down to the definition of what a healthy club is. A healthy club does not need to be successful premiers every year. A premiership is fleeting as next year another premier team is crowned. If winning is the only goal then there is a lot that gets left behind. And sometimes its kids who could have become club stalwarts or even test players. But because of others we will never know.
Phillip Hall is a park cricketer who has seen many Harrys and too few Kyles. While the names may change this Saturday has been played out across many good clubs who struggle to keep players because other teams see winning as the only measure of what a good club is.