NOOSA – In 1964, when I was in Kundiawa in my first year of teaching, a kiap called Max Orken and I started what we termed the Central Highlands Cricket Competition – Minj, Kerowagi, Chuave, Kundiawa.
The other blokes in Kundiawa wanted to play cricket – we played most weekends – but didn’t want to organise stuff, so despite my lack of aptitude at hit, throw and catch, they had made me captain and told me to get on with organising the competition.
In any other place I might have been dubbed club secretary, scorer or umpire. But in Kundiawa, the fellas compensated me for my work by making an untalented 19-year old captain and permanent member of the playing squad.
It is with great displeasure that I recall my first match as captain.
Kundiawa, which had never fielded a representative team before, travelled to Goroka for a friendly.
The Kundiawa XI, plus four reserves, totalled about one-quarter of the male population of the town. We brought with us no pretensions that we could win.
So you can imagine our delight to have Goroka back in the pavilion for 109. Now we thought we had a chance. And I had even taken a catch.
It had dollied off the bat slowly into the air at a nice height, giving me plenty of time to gauge its speed (slow) and trajectory (straight into my hands).
With a gentle plop, the ball fell my cupped hands, bounced out, disappeared in the top of my shirt from where I managed to grab it before it slid away.
At no time did I believe I would drop it. I believed that, if I hadn’t clutched it inside my shirt, as it slipped out I would have simply flicked it in the air with my boot and caught it at third attempt.
I batted at number eleven of course, and I was hoping I wouldn’t need to pad up at all.
However, there I was, Kundiawa at nine for 104, and out I walked knowing I had to stick around for six more runs so we could claim a famous victory.
As I trudged to the crease, my head filled with useful thoughts like ‘don’t get out’ and ‘score the runs’.
I was facing a slow left arm spinner, McKillop, a didiman who was captain of Goroka. I knew his name because I was billeted with him and a woman I believe was his mother.
The first two balls were short of a length, didn’t spin and I took my advice not to get out. I put my left leg well down the wicket, blocking them and watching them stop dead at my foot.
My confidence soared. With a smile I felt I had some talent for this game that had lain dormant for 20 years.
Walking down the pitch to greet my fellow batsman between balls, I said, “Leave McKillop to me, I can pick his spin a mile off.” The other batsman, a German who had only played twice in his life, grunted and looked at me strangely. There had been no spin.
At number 10, he’d been batting for two overs without scoring a run. In truth, I don’t remember him hitting a ball.
As McKillop trundled in unhurriedly to deliver the final ball of the over, I made up my mind to move rapidly down the pitch as he swung his arm so I could create a nice, slow full toss.
This I did. But I moved too soon, and the shrewd McKillop, detecting this, bowled a very short, high looping delivery.
It bounced as it was passing me mid-pitch.
Turning around, I saw it beginning its descent for a second bounce.
Haring after it flailing my bat, I swiped at it just before it bounced for a third time.
Mouth agape and mind in disarray, I stared with dismay as the ball descended once more, this time breaching the stumps.
There were louds shouts of ‘howzat’ and mocking laughter. The umpire’s finger was raised.
I felt totally humiliated and wanted to retire from the team then and there. But the rest of the bots wouldn’t hear of it.
“That was bloody funny,” they said. “Let’s get on the beers.”