Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Karma wears a baggy green

For those who don't know, this is a baggy green - the cap a player gets when he makes the Australian test cricket team (which is kind of a big deal here). Not many of these hats get handed out and, as you can imagine, you don't find too many floating around on eBay.

I scored this one back in high school, courtesy of a friend's dad who used to pick up sporting memorabilia at charity auctions. Not sure why he gave it to me, but who was I to say no? I always imagined I'd hang it up in my games room one day, between the '80s pinball machine and tabletop Pacman game, or maybe next to the original framed and signed Judge Dredd artwork.

But lately I've begun to accept that I will probably never own said games room, or most of the items in it. And as resignation set in, I started glancing at the baggy green with a mixture of sadness and guilt. Sadness, because over the years it has looked more and more forlorn on my bookshelf - the hard material inside the peak has disintegrated, there's a cigarette burn on the top (wasn't me, honest!) and a layer of dust all over it; Guilt, because surely there's someone out there for whom it holds more significance - it almost feels like having someone else's war medal or something.

Each hat has a year on it, and is labelled with the player's name. This one is from 1964 and belonged to Neil Hawke. According to cricket historian Gideon Haigh, Neil bowled medium-fast with an "ungainly, asymmetrical action" and had a wicked slower ball. In 27 tests he took 91 wickets at an average of 29.41. And he played top-flight Aussie Rules before he switched to cricket, which is no mean feat. That's him on the left, after a match-turning partnership with Peter Burge at the Headingly test in 1964. Shame he wasn't wearing his baggy green in the photo!

Back when I got the hat, google wasn't a verb yet, so I'd never actually done any online research on Neil. When I finally did type his name into the magic box I found out that he died in 2000 and that before he passed away he suffered a shocking run of bad health. According to wikipedia, it was during this time that he had to sell most of his cricket memorabilia to pay doctors' bills. Sadly, the guy he'd entrusted with the gear did a runner. Result: no memorabilia and no money.

By now I'm thinking there's only thing to do with the hat, so I called Cricket Australia to see if they had a contact number for Neil's family. They passed me on to the players' association who transferred me to someone else. Everyone I spoke to was helpful, but special mention should go to Ken Horsnell, who exemplifies why cricket was once known as the gentleman's game. Turns out he and Neil once played on the same team, and he tracked down the number of Neil's family for me.

I felt pretty awkward at this point. Not that I had any doubts about what I was doing, but Neil's wife has remarried now, and I guess it was bound to stir up some strong memories. She was very grateful, however, and confirmed that yes, they had lost all Neil's cricketing gear when they'd tried to sell it. I posted the hat the next day, and she sent back a lovely letter saying that she'd passed it on to their grandson. During the online research I discovered that Neil wrote an autobiography, so I've ordered a copy and will use the letter as a bookmark (sure beats putting it in our "files"). I should add that there was talk about sending up some other memorabilia as a kind of thankyou, and after a couple of seconds thinking about where I could put it in the games room, I told her it really wasn't necessary.

I will, however, admit to walking around for a day or so wondering if karma might give me a little pat on the back, and I nearly bought a lottery ticket just in case. But that trick never works, does it? Mostly I feel like in a world where I often miss the chance to get things right, I've been able to hit a boundary for the good guys. Go team.


At 10:07 pm, Blogger Becky Willis Motew said...

WHAT A GREAT STORY. I'm nearly in tears, kiddo. Boy, he looked like some bruiser too, he did.

Karma indeed. You should definitely have bought a lottery ticket.

You are one nice guy.

At 7:16 pm, Blogger Mark said...

Cheers Becky.

At 8:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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