As youngsters, we all have a dream that our destiny will one day be as a professional cricketer. But after years and years of junior cricket and thousands of dollars of our parent’s money being spent on the latest gear, we come to the understanding and realisation that only a handful of these dreams will ever be fulfilled and lived. For the majority of us that don’t make it, we sit around believing our opinions are in some way important given that once upon a time we were reasonable cricketers. We reminisce about times where we fielded at short leg whilst Ben Hilfenhaus was yielding the willow. Maybe even that time we took a low blow to one of Evan Gulbis’ medium pacers. That’s what happened to me anyway and you can be damn sure I’ll be talking about those moments for the rest of my life. Anyway, regardless of whether you’re a washed up nobody like myself or another Tasmanian legend in Ricky Ponting, we do share one thing in common. That being that as youngsters, we all focus in on the current generation of cricketers and identify who we see as our heroes.
Yesterday we received the news that Alastair Cook is retiring from Test Cricket after the final upcoming Test against India. I scrolled through Twitter reading comments, mainly from former England players, congratulating Cook on a wonderful career. For some reason the news of Cook’s retirement is what got me thinking on the topic of cricket heroes. How do we identify and determine our heroes? How do we determine who we want to emulate?
It’s really simple though isn’t it? It’s those players that entertain us, that make us want to watch cricket all year round. Kids these days want to hit the ball as hard and as far as they can, gravitating towards a player like Davey Warner, at least before the whole ball tampering saga. They want to play ridiculous switch hits, ramps and sweep fast bowlers like the recently retired AB De Villiers. With Cook retiring I thought to myself, how many kids are growing up right now dreaming of being Alastair Cook? Here is a bloke that’s played 160 Test matches and scored over 12000 runs yet wouldn’t be identified as a hero, at least globally.
Young people are increasingly becoming impatient, whether it be in life or on the cricket field. Why would any young cricketer want to score a 200 ball century when they could do it at a run a ball? When I was in Grade 7, the older high school kids would call me sir blocks-a-lot in reference to my boring yet difficult to get out style. I was a left handed opener who’s only real shots were a nick through slips for four and perhaps a flick through the leg side when a bowler strayed to straight. This worked for a while though and I prided myself on the ability to stick around and grind out an innings here and there. Things probably began to start going down hill when I tried to become a player I wasn’t, nor had the talent to become.
In retrospect, I should have seen Alastair Cook as my idol. A fellow left-handed opener who has forged a career through patience, hard work and dedication. Cook isn’t blessed with an abundance of talent like other international cricketers, only the die-hard cricket fans would go to a game specifically to watch him bat all day. His career stacks up with the greats though and is a reminder to youngsters that you don’t need to be flashy or have the full repertoire of shots. You shouldn’t be discouraged by the coaches who focus their full attention on the bloke in the net next to you who’s pounding elegant cover drives like he’s Mike Hussey.
As an Australian it pains me to admit, there should have been more world-wide love for Cook throughout his career. Young batsman should embrace his style but perhaps more importantly, embrace their own. They should do so without the fear of being labelled as ‘boring’ or some other title that may be recognised as demeaning within cricketing terms. Why do we as people feel the constant need to live up to societal expectations? The same can be asked in regard to the expectation of what makes a good cricketer. As a bloke with a limited skillset, I always told my teammates “it doesn’t matter how you get em!”