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Sometimes life is like a game of cricket

22 February 2014 55 views No Comment

FOR self-confessed cricket tragic Barry Nicholls, there’s only one sport that teaches the lessons of life. Nicholls, a former first-grade player in his home state South Australia, discovered the joys of cricket, and of radio, by listening to the Test match commentaries of Alan McGilvray on the BBC. Now presenter of ‘Statewide Drive’ on ABC Local Radio in Western Australia, Nicholls also hosts “110 per cent, a sport books segment on ABC ‘Radio’s Grandstand’.

He is adamant that cricket has taught him much about what really matters. One of the main ideas of his book is that “Slow is Good. Indeed, Nicholls loves Test cricket, a game usually played across five six-hour days, because it’s so often slow, not despite it.

“Five days to younger generations is like an eternity; they could have done hundreds of tweets and updated their Facebook 50 times over by then, he observes.

Pushed From the Wings

But as a teenager Nicholls was taught that five days was a perfectly normal stretch during which to sit and watch one match. For him, the benefits were enormous, including that he was able to think, reflect and sometimes talk to other devotees. It was as if the lessons that his mum and dad were trying to teach him – “Don’t rush, take your time; “If you are going to do something, do it well – were encapsulated in Test cricket, a game that took a long time to learn and much longer to play.

When he was 14, and a member of Donald Bradman’s South Australian club side Kensington, Nicholls’s coach was former Australian wicketkeeper Barry Jarman, who had captained Australia for one Test at Headingly in England in 1968. Jarman encouraged Nicholls, telling him he could possibly play for Australia. In contrast, his middle school principal John Inverarity, a former Test player who is now Australia’s chairman of selectors, thought Nicholls would probably play district cricket, but that was all.

Although Nicholls was initially shattered by this tough assessment, he persevered and came to realise that Inverarity had taught him an important lesson: “He was the first of many nay-sayers I would meet in my life, and I learned that it didn’t matter what you did or how you did it, there would always be some people who didn’t rate you. I clung on to what Jarman had said and continued to dream big.

Although Nicholls was never selected for an Australian or Sheffield Shield side, in one sense it didn’t matter because for him it was the dreaming that counted.

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Another of Nicholls’s laws of cricket, and of life, is “keep it simple. Following the example of English philosopher William of Ockham (1287-1347), Nicholls explains: “It doesn’t matter how complex the problem is, in the end the solution should be simple. This is a lesson he learned by playing cricket.

For an atheist such as me, it’s not surprising that my favourite chapter in this captivating book is the title one, ‘You Only Get One Innings’. To Nicholls, batting in cricket and the inevitability of death are similar: each ball we face is usually one closer to getting out, just as each day we live is one closer to our death. It’s only a matter of when.

The sudden death by a brain tumour of his seemingly robust uncle Geoff, soon followed by that of his granny and his beloved dog Snoopy, taught Nicholls that “you could go at any moment and that there are no second chances in life.

And it’s difficult to disagree with Nicholls’s proposition that, as with cricket, the key to a fulfilling life is to learn to stay focused in the present and to not lose sight of what’s enjoyable and worthwhile about the here and now. Amen to that.

Review of Barry Nicholls, ‘You Only Get One Innings’, ABC Books, 301pp, $24.99

Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books, including the co-edited ‘Australia’s Game: Stories, Essays, Verse & Drama Inspired by the Australian Game of Football’.

The Weekend Australian, February 22-23, 2014, Review, BOOKS, p 22