“It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Man Spins”!

Featured Image: ‘Himself’ the Sheikh of Tweak!

I wrote the original of this ‘philosophical ‘cricket-related vignette on 22nd December 2006 when I was Director of the University of Sydney Post Graduate Foundation in Veterinary Science. I tried to vindicate it by also calling it by the alternative substitute title of “The Acquisition of Life Skills”. At the time the Veterinary Faculty at the University was debating the desirable ‘attributes’ required by new graduates in veterinary science. This was educational philosophy ‘writ large’.

It’s on again as I write between Australia and the South African Proteas; this time just prior the confrontation at ‘Newlands’, Cape Town, SA. As usual controversy reigns OK! I also posted a ‘blog’ earlier which I called ‘Spun Out’. It’s had zero ‘hits’ as far as I’m aware. I thought I’d try a little new-age re-branding to see what happens? ‘Joe Adventitious Concupiscence’ has enjoyed an equivalent level of popularity. ‘Big Merv’ attracted an audience of zero until I sent it to  a local entrepreneur in the featured image.

“It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Man Spins”!

Or

‘The Acquisition of Life Skills’

I have just spent a few wonderful days attending the Third Cricket Test versus the South African Proteas! For me this is the apogee of relaxed convivial entertainment! The New Year game at the SCG also brings to town my ‘dry’ mates from outback and way back migrating and congregating annually to assuage thirst and reinforce mutual bonds! It is a tricky manoevre to avoid meeting too early for fear of missing most – or all – of the match! Peter Roebuck has great admiration for the ‘bushies’ and their intimate intricate knowledge. Great to see Gary from Trangie, Tim from Merriwa, Brian from Narromine and the strong Upper Hunter contingent as usual! Yes, I am a resigned ‘flannelled fool’ and addicted extant cricket tragic! I share this ultimate fatal flaw with the PM who I met at a school cricket match! I was delighted to entertain as my guest the thirteen year old Pyotr Judzewitsch for the first two days of the match. ‘Petie’ is the youngest sibling of the Associate Director’s brood. With a Russian father and Oberon mother and raised in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia his early cricket education was found wanting but is being rapidly enlarged and enhanced! It is heart warming to observe the thrill, exhaustive energy and bubbling enthusiasm of the pre-pubescent ‘teens’ all in standard ‘uniform’ chasing down and accumulating autographs from their heroes! Meanwhile, the elder generation sits back, imbibes and absorbs the feral pherormones wafting so generously around the SCG!

As a very small boy in a very distant and tiny village in the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland, England where my family had lived for well over 400 years and very far from any madding crowd I remember my farmer father giving me instructions! He told me of a legendary fellow called Bradman from a distant ‘Empire Outpost’ who acquired exquisite cricketing skills! The story of stump and ripple iron water tank is universally known! Walking slowly to the wicket to accustom one’s eyes to the light was another anecdote I distinctly remember. Funnily I noticed Matthew Hayden did exactly that when opening the batting! Fine tuning one’s eyes to light in England was often an inverse exercise with the candle power in the dressing room arguably stronger than outside! I also learned of a mythical far away place called ‘The Hill’ widely regarded as the ultimate testing ground of English mettle in the blazing heat of combat in the southern cauldron! My father had sown the seed germinating to become my life’s journey!

However it was the acquisition of life skills I contemplated during the intermediary breaks in play! Learning to open the batting in my view teaches you to handle the inevitable vicissitudes you will encounter later in life. You have been selected as part of a team. You walk out at the start of play as an individual to face the first ball at the direction of your captain. You are welcomed with infinite discourtesy by the opposition! With ‘tremulous cadence slow’ you take guard from the umpire pretending to be brave and resilient when you are ostensibly trembling and terrified! Time for decisions! You cannot run to Mummy or hide behind Daddy! Curtly Ambrose is a ghostly blurred figure in the far distance. He charges in from 300 metres or so and hurls the tiny shiny red grenade at 450kph from a trajectory of 5.8 metres! According to the coaching manual and eons of net practice you step onto the front foot, head down, bat straight, eyes on the ball and play a classical forward defensive stroke! Curtly arrives and something vaguely red flashes past before you’ve moved! You hear the inevitable chilling ‘death rattle’ just behind immediately followed by the raucous cheers of the opposition, all 250 of them, gathered closely around the bat! You have scored another ‘golden primary’! You disconsolately tuck your bat under your arm and trudge back head bowed 5kms to the pavilion in full view of your team and assembled throng!

In my very first representative match for my Yorkshire boarding school under 14 team I was the third wicket of a hat trick bowled by a fellow called Jones from Pontefract King’s School. How well do I remember the details almost 50 years later! I distinctly recall my elder sister Diana and her friend Mary Shrouder laughing loudly at my utterly humiliating demise! I can still recall their resounding cackles to this day! The experience – I hope! – ‘steeled’ me for the future! Eventually I captained a few teams and ‘carried my bat’ on more than one occasion. Both my children Kirsty and Hugh opened the batting for their respective schools. At a safe distance of 20,000km Diana and I correspond very well these days!

The point I wish to make is if you can cope with the scenario described above, ‘go the hard yards’ and recover to fight again you are well placed to deal with later exigencies and perceived – real or imaginary – discrimination, discrepancy and downright irregularity. Rudyard Kipling had a bit to say about the metier in his poem with the shortest title ever!

How well trained is the average veterinary undergraduate in ‘life skills’?

Learning and acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes is arbitrarily divide into 3 ‘Domains’:

  1. Cognitive Domain – Knowledge, understanding, comprehension, analysis, synthesis, evaluation
  2. Psychomotor Domain – Hands on skills and ‘doing things’
  3. Affective Domain – Feelings, attitudes, values, interpersonal communication

I believe the cognitive genre is well covered in the undergraduate course. Surgical and other manipulative skills are also very well taught in principal and in theory but only more practice will ‘make perfect’. Ultimately much of this will be work place based learning, training and instruction. What about the ‘affective’ components of the education process? How will this be accumulated and assimilated? Will the reclusive ‘loner’ be isolated on a limb? A very good friend who has run a very successful veterinary practice for over 30 years asks each aspiring new associate, ‘what team events did you take part in’? A ‘team’ could mean any communal activity whether sporting, social or cultural. Henry Collins has loudly espoused the importance of the human/human and veterinarian/client relationship as well as veterinarian/animal and client/animal in modern day veterinary practice. How important is the development of ‘team spirit’ and ‘team play’ in our veterinary society? How do we effectively communicate with one another? Is this a team activity or very much individual idiosyncrasy?

Back to the cricket! For me the level of skill attained and displayed by the combatants at Test class is esoteric! It is not just the skill with bat, ball or in the field. It is the steely mental resolve finely honed and tuned over many years’ competition at the highest level with all its concomitant ‘highs’, ‘lows’ and sustained recovery! It is the infinite patience and consummate concentration required for many hours or even days’ combat. It is the ability to raise the threshold, ignore the pain and strive for glory just the same! Well done Matt Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martin, Stuart McGill and Gary Kirsten! All have ‘reinvented’ after earlier demise! Welcome the new brigade including Brett Lee and Botha Diepenaar! As ABC commentator Tim Lane correctly announced the thumbs were down in the Coliseum when the ‘Fat Man’ came on to spin on the 4th. day! Not even Kerry O’Keeffe’s ‘asinine’ laugh could delay the inevitable.

W. P. Howey

Director

Postscript: I played against one G. Boycott at secondary school! I could leave it at that but truth prevails! It was Geoff’s red haired cousin Gordon from a different school! I managed to hold a brief conversation with the ‘real Geoff Boycott at the SCG during the previous Ashes Tour.