Retro Sport with Roger Mann: The ambitions of three young Aussies

Torbay Weekly

In the mid-1980s, my own local cricket career was coming to an end, and my wife and I had to face the fact that, very soon, we would have to settle for deckchairs on a Saturday afternoon instead of the day-to-day involvement which we had enjoyed for so many years.

So, perhaps a little selfishly, we decided to invite one or two youngsters from overseas to spend each summer with us, if they were as cricket-mad as we were!

By chance, we had the perfect set-up for such a scheme.

Our children had left home, so we had a house with two vacant flats.

I had a business which could provide them with jobs, and an income to enable them to self-cater for themselves.

They could take afternoons off to play in mid-week matches at Torquay or Paignton, or, simply, to go to practice in the nets.

Because I was a senior cricket coach, I could watch them progress, and, maybe, give them a few ideas of how to improve their games.

All in all, it proved very appealing to 18 and 19 year olds, and, for the next 20 years, we hosted 47 youngsters from Australia, India, West Indies, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Over those years, we had a few highs and lows, but, overall, we never regretted our decision, and made lots of friends who still keep in touch with us all these years later.

A lot of the lads went on to play first-class cricket, and two of them played at Test Match level.

Boys being boys, we had to apply some fairly strict rules like 'no girls in the flats' / 'home by 11pm unless agreed otherwise'.

In each flat was a list of domestic rules like 'check all electric items switched off before going out' / 'All washing-up to be completed before leaving' / 'slippers only to be worn in this flat'.

Most of the lads were only too pleased to obey them, and now tell us that those rules prepared them for their independent lives, which often followed in the years after they left us.

By the time 1997 arrived, we were old hands at hosting overseas youngsters, and had already invited two Australian lads, Adam and Craig, to fly over to join us in mid-April.

Both had been recommended by Australian coaches whom we had known for many years, and Adam would join Paignton Cricket Club, and Craig would go to Torquay.

Early in March, we got an unexpected call from Bill Martin, secretary of the famous EMU club of New South Wales, asking if we could take a third lad.

Michael had just obtained a Batchelor of Science degree in fisheries, and was really keen to have a summer abroad before settling down to a working life.

So, two became three, and one flat would have to be shared.

As always, early April meant driving up to Heathrow and collecting each lad as he arrived, grasping his cricket bat, and wondering why he had chosen to come to this cold, wet country!

Eventually, the collections were completed, and, in the following days, we showed them Torbay, introduced them to Greek food at the Bay Tree, and even encouraged them to sample some scrumpy at the Cider Bar.

We knew, from past experience, that the danger time for young overseas lads was a Saturday night after cricket, so, as soon as they arrived, we told them that every Saturday night was a 'Balcony Club' night together, at home.

Jenny would cook the food, and we would all chat over the past week’s experiences.

When the first Saturday arrived, we sat out on the balcony, and I started by suggesting that each of them should create an ambition for the summer ahead, so that we could all try to achieve them.

Adam said: “Mine’s to score a century in England.” Craig chose: “To see the Australians play” (They were touring that summer). Finally, Michael thought for a moment and said: “I want to play cricket at Lord’s!”

We all looked at him and gasped! “Wow!” I said. “That’ll be a challenge!”

He smiled and replied: “Well! It was you who asked me!”

Next week: The season begins and the lads try to achieve their ambitions.