Aha………I think I detect the sweet, resonant sound of bat on ball…….
To an old cricket buff like me, it’s akin to a musician’s ears being pricked by the distant strum of an acoustic guitar. Or ‘the sound you hear when lightning parts the air for a split second’………
It’s only a couple of weeks since the O & M Grand Final produced the cacophony of 8,000 cheering fans at nearby Norm Minns Oval. A couple of the kids who participated on that day have put it behind them .
They’re limbering up for the approaching cricket season…..steaming in, hurling the spherical projectile with venom…… and conversely, delighting in the ‘crack’ of the willow, as the pill cannons into the netting.
I ask how things are shaping. Okay, they say…..There’s a new bloke coming over from Zimbabwe….a wicket-keeper batsman, called Tafadzwa Tsiga.
Crikey, I reply, that’s a handle that could drive an ageing scorer to drink…… I’ve only just managed to get my head around the interpretation of our generously-proportioned medium-pacer – Paul Szeligiewicz, and that reliable Sri Lankan veteran Lakprija ‘Lucky’ Waruna Shantha. And besides, I’ve still got to pronounce the name of our skipper, Jacob Schonafinger, to the less- informed opposition scorers.
By the way, I ask, what’s ‘Schona’ up to ?………
”They reckon he flies in tomorrow,” I’m told……..
I’d better hunt him down…….
The first question I put to this fanatical Tiger fan is how – given he was on the other side of the world – he managed to deal with the stress of Grand Final Day.
“We were sitting in the Airport Lounge in Iceland,” he tells me, “….and I managed to get a good Internet connection. It was 4.30am, yet it felt like I was there…..Didn’t miss a kick….It was wonderful.”.
‘Schona’s’ just completed a six-month sporting adventure. Besides incorporating a fair bit of travel, he also spent some time teaching at Harlesden Primary School, in the north of London.
“That was an interesting enough experience in itself. It’s a cultural melting-pot. Really tough. Some days you’d be pulling your hair out wondering how you can put up with the kids any longer.”
“But then, when the Summer Holidays came around and my Term was up, they seemed really sorry to see me go. Presented me with farewell gifts. I guess I must have made some sort of an impression……”
His main purpose in heading over to the ‘Old Dart’ was to soak up a different cricketing culture; to savour the game at an 87 year-old club in South-West London – about 17 miles from the hub of the city.
‘Stokesfield’, a charming little Oval with fine amenities, is the home of the Long Ditton Cricket Club.
“Whereas over here we have a tier-system of young kids being fed through from junior ranks, the players were all my age, or slightly older. They love their cricket – and they love the social life afterwards,” he says. “ A few beers, and then they bring out the Cards and play ‘til all hours.”
‘Schona’ wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but admits that the first ‘Friendly’ game he played in after landing – against Thames Ditton – certainly opened his eyes.
“It was about 7 degrees and there were a couple of delays because of hailstorms. I made a Golden Duck and didn’t look like taking a wicket. They probably thought their overseas recruit was a dud. For my part, I wondered if this might be a forerunner of what I was going to cop all season.”
He redeemed himself with a typically aggressive 87 off 50-odd balls the following day, so the ‘natives’ were rather relieved that the polite, cheerful young fellah who had arrived in their midst, could handle himself alright.
As things began to materialise, he adapted easily to the change in conditions : “I was told the ‘Stokesfield’ track usually had a bit in it, but it turned out a trifle ‘dusty’, and suited me, I suppose.”
Long Ditton enjoyed their best season in ages, and cleaned up a hat-trick of trophies : the 20/20 Cup, the F.A-style knock-out Sunday Cup, and the main prize, the Fuller’s Premier League Cup. According to ‘Schona’, they celebrated accordingly.
The Premier League trophy earned them promotion to Division 4 of next year’s Surrey Championship.
A contributing factor towards their success, no doubt, was their Aussie ‘import’, who captured 31 League wickets, bowling second or third change. He usually batted at number 5, and mustered 290 runs @ 29.0 in the League. ( His stats in all matches were: 526 runs and 43 wickets ).
All told, he fitted 24 games into his English summer. The season finished near the end of August, and he and Sheri spent the last month exploring Croatia, Italy, Scotland and Wales, and taking in the volcanoes, geysers and the spectacular Northern Lights of Iceland. So after that break, he’s raring to attack the 2019/20 WDCA season………………
You can understand what an eye-opener it must have been for the young fellah, when he walked into his new club in early April.
After all, he’d spent his entire cricketing life at the W.J.Findlay Oval, moving through the junior grades to ultimately make his senior debut in 2008, at the age of 15.
Even then, he was considered part of the furniture. His Saturday ritual, for a couple of seasons, had been to play Junior cricket of a Saturday morning, then hang around and follow the exploits of Rovers-United’s senior players like Peter Tossol, ‘Chuck’ Berry, Peter Harvey, Will Russell and ‘Jezza’ Ackroyd…..
The club’s trio of colourful supporters – Arthur Welch, Joe Pilkington and Ken Stewart – who were noted for their acerbic wit and unsolicited comments to players and supporters alike – took a ‘shine’ to the lad. They correctly reasoned that any kid who loved the game to that extent, must be made of the right stuff.
‘Schona’ saw the Hawks win a flag. He couldn’t wait to join them. But not long after he did, the ranks started to slowly dwindle, until they were left with just a shell of a side.
It’s a funny thing with sporting organisations ( and Glenrowan Football Club is a recent case in point). From the outside, the public think that they’re impregnable, whilst inside, a couple of individuals are ‘peddling furiously’ in an endeavour to keep them afloat.
That was the case with the Rovers-United of a decade ago. ‘Schona’ was one of those who had to do the ‘peddling’.
I remember penning a few words which summed up his involvement thus far:
‘Jacob Schonafinger has become used to shouldering responsibility at the Findlay Oval.’
‘At 18 he was captain, chief recruiting officer, motivator and secretary. Whenever anything went wrong, or needed to be done, ‘Schona’ was the man to contact. He maintained an optimistic outlook when things looked decidedly bleary, and celebrated the club’s meagre successes with gusto………..’
Relief eventually came in the form of Bruck Cricket Club, who were groundless, and floated the possibility of a merge. Suddenly there was playing support there in spades. From leading the ‘wooden-spooners’ the previous season, he was to become a central figure in a dramatic Grand Final against Yarrawonga-Mulwala, which went down to the wire.
I’ve seen almost all of the 2034 runs he’s made, and the 219 wickets he’s taken in 122 A-Grade games, but the purple patch he enjoyed in the 2015/16 Finals put the stamp on him as a ‘star’ of the competition.
For starters, there was an inspired 21 overs against Benalla-Violet Town, which yielded figures of 7/17. Those bobbling, well-controlled medium-pacers had the batsmen flummoxed, and incited visions of a re-incarnated Bob Massie.
The following week, he sent down 26 overs and snared 6/34. The ‘Lakers’ had staggered to 7/92 in pursuit of their target of 155. ‘Schona’ grabbed the eighth wicket with seven runs still needed, but there was to be no romantic finale’ to this hot-streak. Yarra-Mul scrambled to a two-wicket win in one of the great WDCA deciders.
Nine years after initially being thrust into the leadership of his club, he’s still skipper….still the motivator….. still the ‘go-to’ man……still attacks his cricket with a passion….
When he walks onto Yarrawonga’s Hargreaves Oval on Saturday, to kick off the WDCA season, that sabbatical in the Northern Hemisphere will seem like a blur……..