Yarraville Club Cricket Club is making the sport accessible to people from all walks of life
The game moves more often than not in a leisurely way; and so the watcher can be mindful, as the men in white come onto the field at the fresh of the morning, that the sun is beginning its comfortable journey up the sky; that, while the game pauses in the hour for rest and lunch, the earth is sleeping in the heat of noon; that, as the end of the day comes and the shadows fall over the grass, the yellow light touches the cricketers’ flannel. These things matter to the game; it is these things, and not the winning and losing and the records that we remember in old age after our limbs have become stiff and we can play no more.
So wrote the great English writer Neville Cardus some 80 years ago, yet you would be forgiven for thinking he had written those words today. For despite its many evolutions, at the core of the game, its beauty remains its inherent ability to transcend. In addition to rising above mere statistics, as noted by Cardus, it has transcended race, politics, age, gender and time. Given its long and storied history, it was not until relatively recently that administrators of the game began formalising avenues through which cricket could transcend disability – the delay perhaps a fitting example of the many ways in which cricket allegorises society itself.
Australia’s first all abilities cricket association, the Melbourne All Abilities Cricket Association (MAACA), has given scores of cricketers the opportunity to overcome the barriers that have at times no doubt threatened to define them. Established in 2015, MAACA now has six participating clubs, and is one of the jewels in the crown of Cricket Australia’s National Disability Cricket Strategy and Cricket Victoria’s All Abilities Action Plan, under which all abilities cricket is being expanded throughout the state and country.
Yarraville Club Cricket Club (YCCC) is the only all-abilities cricket club in Melbourne’s western suburbs, a veritable melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. Hussain Hanif, the YCCC coach, notes the high proportion of overweight and diabetic residents in some of these suburbs, as well as families of low socioeconomic and migrant backgrounds.
“I use the cricket program to provide education on and off the sports field: to show how you can get the most out of life and not let the disability stop you from chasing your dreams,” says Hussain. In its first season, Hussain’s dedication has seen YCCC become incredibly successful on and off the field, and its inclusive, comfortable culture is frequently attracting new players.
One of those players is 22-year-old Christopher Quinn-Scheib. After having the last year off from playing cricket, this season Chris joined his friends at YCCC – and he has enjoyed every minute.
“Playing cricket has helped my confidence,” says Chris. “We’re a big family at Yarraville, everyone gets along so well. It makes it a lot easier to communicate and function as a team.”
Like most cricketers in Melbourne – and Australia – Chris’s passion for the game was ignited through backyard cricket. However, as his mother Patricia recalls, cricket had a more profound influence on Chris than anticipated.
“Chris was bullied at school, and he had low self-esteem for a while until he started wanting to play cricket and football. Once he started getting into playing cricket, there was no turning back. He absolutely loved it, he brought a lot more of himself out. He was always somewhat shy, but it’s brought him out of his shell,” says Patricia. “It’s made us a lot happier now with him, because he’s not holding everything back and getting frustrated. He keeps going from strength to strength.”
Alexander Skinner, who plays mainstream cricket as well as all abilities cricket, can scarcely believe the heights he has reached today. Once never picked for school sporting teams, Alex is now playing in the first division of the Eastern Cricket Association, playing alongside a former international cricketer and keeping wickets to bowlers bowling in excess of 135km/h.
“Being autistic is hard, especially at school, having very few friends and being bullied a lot…when I wanted to start playing cricket it was a big shock to my family, as I was thought too unsocial to play,” Alex says.
“Being autistic is in most cases a problem that affects your ability to be social and read people’s body language and be part of a team. Playing with the guys in my side has really helped me with my own problems and allows me to be more social with more people. It has changed my life for the better.” Alex credits his hard work and persistence with allowing him to play at the highest possible level, something that still “boggles [his] mind”.
Justin West, a football and cricket fan who was born with hydrocephalus, as well as a learning disability and a spinal disorder, is not allowed to play football due to the risk of seriously damaging his spine. However, Justin has always enjoyed the “laid-back, non-contact” atmosphere of cricket, which gives his life important balance while he studies a course in events management at Evocca College.
“You just zone out on the field and focus on the game,” says Justin. “Cricket is a good anger management tool. It’s not as frustrating. If you get a bad decision, you take it on the chin. There’s no point arguing with the umpire, his decision is final. There’s been a big change [in me]. I’m a lot happier, I look forward to matches every second week and training weekly – it’s definitely a confidence booster.” Although his spinal disorder can sometimes make it “agony” to get through a whole day of cricket, Justin, a former representative player with the Victoria Vikings, is determined to keep playing cricket as long as his body will let him.
The challenges faced by YCCC players are ongoing.
“I went through a rough stage with the passing of my uncle,” recalls Chris. “I didn’t want to play anymore. Huss told me to push through it. When my uncle passed away, a week later, we had a cricket game. I decided to play, and I told myself, if I get a wicket, I’ll do a celebration and dedicate it to my uncle.”
Chris did take the wicket, and treasures it as a defining moment for him on the cricket field.
At the end of last month, YCCC won their grand final match off the last ball, but as Cardus wrote, winning and losing will eventually fade beyond memory; to players like Chris, Alex and Justin, the positive impact of cricket on their quality of life will remain profound.
“People say people with disabilities can’t play sport,” Chris says. “All abilities cricket helps us prove people wrong – people with disabilities can do as much as a normal person can do.”