Cricket and the art of giving

Published: Dec 27, 2018, 05:38 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Australia's touching gesture of including Archie Schiller as co-captain of Tim Paine is another example of the sport's kindness towards children

Archie Schiller, 7, warms up with the Australian cricket team before the third Test against India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
Archie Schiller, 7, warms up with the Australian cricket team before the third Test against India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloArchie Schiller, 7, may experience more highs in his life, but none will be as special, soulful and significant than being part of Australia's Test squad as co-captain to Tim Paine in the ongoing Test against India, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Archie has a heart condition that prevents him from playing the game whenever he wants to, but the lad — who hails from South Australia, like skipper Paine — remains a keen leg-spinner.

To get a kid to be part of a team is more than just innovative and radical, and who can blame cricket lovers for mouthing 'What?' when they first read about this gesture. However, over the years, cricket and cricketers have been kind to children. We often read about Indian cricketers visiting cancer-afflicted kids in hospitals and there have been numerous examples of players going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of children either dealing with health-related adversity or not being fortunate enough to afford good quality equipment. On Christmas Day, Sachin Tendulkar decided to surprise the kids at Ashray Child Care Centre in Bandra by turning up as Santa Claus.

Well played! Until recently, a popular cricketing personality used to get bats, pads and gloves from a manufacturer in northern India, and each time the parcel arrived, I got a call from him, requesting that the kit be given to needy young players. The news about Archie being part of his country's cricket team in Melbourne reminded me of an incident involving Sir Donald Bradman. The great Australian played his last first-class game in 1949, but was coerced into captaining Prime Minister Robert Menzies's XI against England on February 6, 1963.

During the luncheon interval, a polio-afflicted Rick Scheeren decided to jump over a fence in his quest to get his brother's bat signed by Bradman. He knocked on the dressing room door which, of all people, was opened by Bradman. The cricket legend duly signed the bat and a sharp photographer captured the poignant moment. The image is preserved in the National Archives of Australia whose website says that the bat was stolen when Scheeren's family was moving to Canada from Canberra.

Another knight — Sir Jack Hobbs — was a hit with kids. Hobbs, who owned a sports shop at 59 Fleet Street in London, was known to hand out bats to kids. His big heart and good nature was not lost on his teammates and opponents. Australia's batsman/journalist Jack Fingleton didn't play Test cricket against Hobbs, but opened the innings with him in a Press v Australian Navy game two years after the Surrey man's 1930 retirement from Test cricket.

"Like his stroke-making, there is nothing uppish about Sir Jack. He is everybody's friend, and I think he appreciates that as much as his great string of records and figures." Fast bowlers can be mean on the field, but they too display their big hearts off it. England's Fred Trueman once wondered what could be done with tins, jars and sacks of sweets sent by toffee manufacturers to the Yorkshire dressing room. Someone suggested that he send them to a home for disabled children.

Trueman telephoned the home, only to be told that the sweets would be accepted on the condition that he presents them in person. Trueman agreed and was at the home as soon as the Yorkshire fixture was completed. While handing over the sweets, he asked one kid, "How are you, son?" The kid assured Trueman he was fine and then revealed his ambition of winning the London to Brighton road race the following year. Trueman's eyes welled up and he promised himself that day that if he'd do anything for charity, it would be for children. Max Walker, the big Australian bowler of the 1970s, was fascinated by the passion of West Indian kids on his 1973 tour to the Caribbean.

During the Barbados Test, he befriended a young lad called Joey, who encouraged Walker all day from the boundary line. Walker knew Joey and his friends could do with some cricket gear, so when he received a fresh pair of pads from Australia on that tour, he asked Joey whether he would use his old pads. In his book, Tangles, Walker wrote: "I don't think I've ever seen anyone's eyes light up so much."

And the kid said: "Mr Walker, we ain't got no pads, we ain't got no bat, we ain't got nothing." That caused a lump in Walker's throat and left him hoping Joey would play for the West Indies someday. Sir Ian Botham too has done more than a fair bit for kids and adults through fundraising walks. It all started in 1977 when he had to make regular visits to a hospital in Taunton to cure an injury. To get to the physiotherapy section, Botham had to pass through a children's ward where he couldn't help notice kids suffering from leukaemia. While leaving the hospital after one visit, he chatted with the kids and said he would meet them in two weeks. But, by the time Botham made his next visit, some of the children had already passed away.

That triggered his passion to go the extra mile — quite literally — for charity. Back to Archie. He hasn't lived a decade, but reportedly has already had 10 heart surgeries. One can only hope that his connection to the number 11 is restricted to the playing field and not another operating theatre. Out there, as part of the Australian team during the Melbourne Test, Archie can content himself with tugging at the heartstrings of his nation… while the world wholeheartedly supports this initiative.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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