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In search of inner peace, Cameron Bancroft finds solace at boyhood club

At his old club in Perth, Cameron Bancroft found two things he most needed during his exile: comfort and cricket

Written by Sandip G |
Updated: December 12, 2018 5:05:26 am
Willetton Cricket Club and Canning Football Club is where Cameron Bancroft discovered his passion for the game several years ago, and it’s where he’s rediscovering it. (File Photo)

A burly man shouts out a warning: “Mate, don’t walk that side, the dogs are exercising. Unless you want your bum torn off.” Scrawled in neat cursive was a board that read: “Dog exercise arena”. Not far, on a pristine green lawn, a pack of dogs are playfully chasing a tennis ball.

It’s a peaceful enclave, surrounded by poplar trees, with park benches, a tidy garden and a spacious hall that serves as the trophy cabinet, dressing room and front desk for the Willetton Cricket Club and Canning Football Club, both playing in the first grade. On the walls are framed pictures of club luminaries. And when there is no cricket or footie — mostly on weekdays —it’s where the inmates of a community old-age home meet.

It’s also where Cameron Bancroft discovered his passion for the game several years ago, and it’s where he’s rediscovering it.

Meanwhile, a group of women are chalking their Christmas celebration plans, peering and laughing at the canine revelry, much to the irritation of Dom Crongnale, the curator. He’s thudding a pudgy parch of the square, cursing the dogs for trammelling on it, “These dogs, you see, they make a mess of it. See, this part is like a pudding, you place your feet on it, and boom you go straight down,” he complains. Next Friday, there is a footy match with the Fremantle Club, but it’s the cricket match on Sunday that worries him. “I’d tell Cam not to field here, to keep off the area, he will be out for the rest of the year. That’s the last thing he needs this year.”

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The affection in his voice is striking, it’s how most of his club-mates feel for him, trying their best to create an environment wherein he could forget the dark phase of his life and return refreshed. Nearly six months into his club stint, no one’s tried to reopen the wounds by asking him about the incident, commiserated or empathised with him. “We shouldn’t make him feel conscious of that. It’s like Cam is back playing for us and one day he’ll go back to playing Test cricket. We love it. He loves it too. We are winning matches, he’s scoring runs,” Crongnale says. According to club statistics, he has scored 350 runs at an average of 58.33 in six matches, including a six-hour 154. “I heard the pitch was really difficult to bat but Cam had no problem. Happy for my brother.”

Late December, when his nine-month suspension is over, Bancroft would return to first-class cricket, but curator Crongnale is disconsolate that he wouldn’t be featuring in the inaugural Test at the Perth Stadium. “It’s a real shame. We would have all loved to see him bat there and we would have been up in the stands cheering him. We used to whenever he played a match at the WACA. This time, I don’t know whether I’d go. It would feel empty without him,” he says, before he resumes cursing the dogs and the wretched fate of Bancroft.

***

The first time Sean Brennan saw a yoga mat in his life was on the lawns of Willetton. He recognised it was Bancroft, but couldn’t understand what he was doing. “Was he meditating? Or trying to swim? I was quite amused, thought it was a new fad, for he experiments with a lot of such new things,” he said, before Bancroft told him it was yoga.

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It was in Melbourne, where he had a three-month stint mentoring junior players at St Kilda, that Bancroft got into yoga, though he got the idea from an Indian yoga teacher who’d come to teach the inmates of the community centre. “You know he’s curious of anything new. So when the teacher came he used to pick his ears and he, in fact, had begun training a bit with him. It was something to see a 20-something boy training yoga with people thrice his age. And once he gets the hang of something, he gets totally into it,” says Sally, the room-keeper of the community centre.

[ie_backquote quote=”I will miss him as a club-mate, but I’ll be happier if he returns to the Australian dressing room. He belongs to that level, unlike most of us here” large=”true”]

Returning from Melbourne, where he also did a bit of Spanish lessons, Bancroft explained the benefits of yoga to his teammates as well as the lower-grade players, besides teaching them the basic techniques. Brennan admits he’s already feeling the difference. “I’m too lazy to do it everyday, but it has improved my fitness, stamina and fielding,” he says. And needless to say, they’ve begun to win matches.

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Greg Hill, the batting coach, bursts into peels of laughter when he heard this. “Everybody listens to him, he has played Test cricket, seen the world around and is mad about learning new things. It’s good for him at this stage, a little bit of focus away from cricket, to freshen up his mind. I’ve also heard he’s learning Spanish. Wonder when the boys start speaking Spanish in the change room,” he says, laughing.

At the same time, Bancroft hasn’t wavered his focus from cricket. “He’s obsessive about the game. Even now, he asks me minute technical questions, little things like whether his back leg is falling over, or whether it’s going too much across. And as it had been since he was a young boy, he practises really hard. At this level, a player of his talent can walk in blindfolded and make runs. But he always wants to be in the groove, prepares for every match like a Test match,” Hill observes.

Brennan, meanwhile, is dreading the day he’ll have to pack a guitar into the ground. For the last he heard of Bancroft was that he has started taking guitar lessons. “If it helps him in recover from the wounds, so be it. I will miss him as a club-mate, but I’ll be happier if he returns to the Australian dressing room. He belongs to that level, unlike most of us here,” he says. Bancroft’s club-mates are an assortment of lawyers, plumbers, accountants and carpenters, with only a handful of them having played competitive cricket. “Maybe, we can teach him a bit of our skills too. I’m sure that in a week he’ll outdo all of us,” he says.

Guitar or even a golf club. Rattles out Hill: “The other day he started talking golf with me, that he’s a regular with the Melville Glades Golf Club and watches lot of Youtube videos to improve his downward swing.” He wonders how he juggles all of these. “If it helps him find peace, so be it,” he says.

Cameron Bancroft’s jersey displayed at his club.

***

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“Our boy is innocent,” emphasises Mary McDale, a long-serving attendant at the club, who comes from the same Perth suburb of Attadale as Bancroft. Not an avid cricket watcher, she doesn’t know the seriousness of Bancroft’s offence, or what it means to tamper with a cricket ball. “He’s innocent, these are false charges,” she insists.

But when the news flashed on the telly and she saw Bancroft’s tearful face, she broke down. “I didn’t feel like having dinner that night, it was like my own son was incriminated. The first time I saw him here also I felt like crying, but didn’t. He was a bit moody then,” she says.

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The first time she saw him was about a decade ago, when he politely asked her where the nets were. “The other boys kept chatting around with the usual boys stuff while Cam was serious and focused, showing a maturity beyond his age,” she observes. It’s a cruel irony that the very virtue he embodies deserted him when he needed it the most.

Similarly, his coach at the Aquinas College, David Lindsay was shocked when he saw his name flicker on the television scroll. “It can’t be him, it’s not him, it must be a mistake, I thought. He’s not that stupid, rather an intelligent boy,” he recollects.

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But he perfectly understands the situation — a junior player having to carry out the orders of the seniors players. He was too nice to say no. “In college, he was too obedient, to almost a fault. I would tell them to come for practice at 7 in the morning, he’ll be there by 6, already padded up for a long haul,” he remembers.

So diligent was he that the boys used to play pranks on him. “One day, they hid his kit in the toilet and poor Cam was running around searching for it. That was the only time I saw him get really angry and I had to interfere and take the boys apart. That day I also realised how serious he was about the game,” he says.

The last time they talked was before his debut last year. “I wanted to call him. But what would I tell him? How can I console him, because I know how passionate he was about wearing the Baggy Green. I simply didn’t have the courage. The best thing was to leave him alone, let him bury his own demons. The more we ask him, the more he might keep brooding on it. We should give him that space,” he says.

Cameron Bancroft in an old team photo.

***

No more than a dozen spectators gathered to watch Bancroft’s first match for his old club. It wasn’t a sense of betrayal, but it’s the way it is in Perth, laid-back and informal. He also looked horrendously out of groove. “He was beaten several times and wasn’t middling any delivery, which is surprising because the quality of bowlers he was facing was quite ordinary. I felt he was troubled a bit,” says Hill. Off the 13th delivery he faced, he was caught behind for four runs.

The inner demons might have been still nagging him. The next time he came to the club, he quoted the famous words of St Assisi: “It is in giving that we receive.” He later explained it to them: “That’s what humankind is on this earth for — to be able to give to others and I think that really enriches everyone’s lives. It’s beautiful to be able to see all the people here giving to something greater than themselves.”

He then began spending time with a charity for young cancer patients based in Broome in the outskirts of Perth, taking them out to the beaches and making them happy. “Maybe, it was his way of atoning for the mistake he made. It shows that he’s not only repentant but also a kind person at heart. He’s been always like that,” says Lindsay.

In his next match, he reeled off an attacking 95, setting off what’s turning out to be a productive season. Again, the turnout was poor. Hill reckons it’s a blessing, as compared to the incessant attention on Steve Smith and David Warner in Sydney. “There’s less public glare on him, so he can get his peace back. We’re all trying to do that, help him find that inner peace and make him wear that Baggy Green again.”

Meanwhile, the dogs are gently ushered into a van, Crongnale has fixed the slushy parch, the women at the community centre have finalised their Christmas plans, McDale and Sally have locked the hall. And somewhere in Attadale, Bancroft might have found a new interest, and moved a step closer to finding an inner peace.

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First published on: 12-12-2018 at 05:00:10 am

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