August 2013

The Nation Reviewed

Our septuagenarian cricketers

By Ashley Hay
It’s never too late to wear the baggy green

Recently, a parcel was delivered to Ian Lowe’s house on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Lowe receives a lot of mail – he’s president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, an anti-nuclear campaigner and a patron and member of numerous organisations – but this parcel was something else. Inside was “a Cricket Australia team blazer with the coat of arms on it, and a sleeveless sweater, just like the one the Test team wear … It was lovely.” He laughs. “I mean, it’s every little boy’s dream, isn’t it?”

At 70, Lowe is set to represent his country in the first Over-70 Ashes tour of England, later this month. In earlier years, he was that kid who would turn up every Saturday at the town’s ground – in Camden, in the NSW southern highlands – wearing white shorts and sandshoes, offering to score. “I did enjoy scoring,” he says, “but I always hoped that someone wouldn’t turn up and I’d get to play.” The first time that happened, Lowe ran in from fine leg and took “a screamer of a catch” in the first over. “For five minutes I was a hero. Then the other kid arrived and I went back to the scorebook.”

Eventually he secured a spot “as a determined and not very capable batsman” and an occasional off-spin bowler. The confluence of a growth spurt and a particularly frustrating match (“the other team was something like 3 for 230 and I wasn’t getting a bowl”) saw him abandon his “careful off spinners. I just ran in and hurled [the ball] as fast as I could. Suddenly, there were stumps flying all over the place, and my team said to me, ‘Why didn’t you tell us you could bowl fast?’ I said, ‘I never tried before.’”

There’s delight in his précis of what followed – his “tenfer” (ten wickets in an innings) in September 1973; his natural predilection for outswing. He played cricket for the District, and then for the University of New South Wales (taking 199 wickets – it would have been 200 if his captain hadn’t dropped “a dolly of a catch” in Lowe’s last outing) and Inter-Varsity (opponents included current Cricket Australia chair of selectors John Inverarity, and Rod Marsh). In 1968, he was chosen for the Combined Australian Universities team to tour New Zealand, but he’d just started teaching and couldn’t take time off. “I thought I’d missed my chance to represent Australia 45 years ago,” he says.

When an official Australian Over-60 team was mooted in 2011, Lowe didn’t nominate: “I could see half a dozen better seam bowlers playing in the over-60s competition.” But when they called for expressions of interest for an over-70s team late last year, “my reply went off by return of post”.

Members of the 16-strong squad boast past lives that span everything from panel beating to transport economics. The captain is Gordon Ives, 72, from the NSW Central Coast, who, like Lowe, ripped open his parcel: “I’ve been playing since I was ten or 12, and this is the best jumper I’ve ever had.” England, meanwhile, has selected a squad of 26, and a short profile of each player’s game has been circulated among the Australians.

The tour comprises ten games – one against each of seven English counties, and three one-day international 50-over matches. “As long as we keep injury-free,” says Ives, “it should be a beauty.”

Lowe doesn’t doubt it. Asked about a future over-80s tour, he takes the scientist’s approach: ”When I was young, there was one person over 30 who still played and that was regarded with some amazement. [Most] moved on to more genteel pastimes, like golf or lawn bowls. What it probably reflects is that we are the healthiest generation that has ever been. All of my male direct ancestors were no longer alive at the age of 70. So to be alive and playing cricket: it’s a function of better nutrition and healthier living.”

Lowe stills plays for the Honest Trundlers (a casual trans-Pacific touring outfit) and Griffith University, for whom he will play his 300th game when the summer season starts. There’s a lot to be said, he reckons, for spending your weekends engaged in team play if your day job is “largely individual”. He pauses. “It’s probably useful particularly if, on the field, you’re a bowler and an occasional captain. You have to think about strategy: the most direct approach is not always the best approach. You have to think about sideways ways of achieving your goal.” Just as you won’t always bowl the best batsman with your best ball, “the same is probably true of advocacy in environmental areas or climate change. You don’t often persuade people by the sheer logic of your argument. You have to find a way of aligning what you would like to see happen with something they would like to see happen.”

In the meantime, he’s waiting for the next parcel to arrive – the one containing the cap. “Slipping the baggy green on for the first time,” Lowe says, “will be a wonderful moment.”

Ashley Hay

Ashley Hay won last year’s Bragg UNSW Prize for Science Writing. Her last novel, The Railwayman’s Wife, won the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies’ Colin Roderick Award and the People’s Choice category in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Her new novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, will be published this April. She lives in Brisbane.

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