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Martin Challis
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August 2009

A Man of Style & Grace

Recently I searched for information regarding an old acquaintance using the technological search process we have come to refer to as 'Googling'. I'd been recalling a time in my life when I was roaming the planet in search of something and had found myself in a place called Chester le Street, a village located between the cities of Durham and Newcastle in Northern England.

I'd been invited to play cricket for the local cricket club as a semi-professional player. Which essentially meant I played for free and received a small travel allowance. The team was mostly made up of local chaps from the region. The 'Geordies' as they're known, have a reputation for hospitality, fun, good conversation and a wicked sense of humour. My teammates were no exception. During that time I had the good fortune of playing with many talented and gifted cricketers who were also great fun and very funny.

Each year the Chester le Street club hired an international cricketer as their professional in residence. This was a common practice for the cricket clubs that fielded a team in first division in the county competition. The year I played cricket with the club was the second year they retained the services of Pakistan international Wasim Raja.

I remember the first day at training, watching him bat and bowl. He was graceful in all things. His movements were athletic, fluid and balanced. It was always a joy to watch him in the field and when he took the crease. The ball would strike his bat and the crisp resonant sound of leather hitting the sweet spot of willow had a way of warming the soul. The world always seemed right when Wasim went to bat.

He was a gentle man, with a big smile and a passion for cricket. He welcomed me into the team right from the start. There was never a wasim-crhint of status-play or ego. I remember feeling included and inspired by him on every occasion we played. This also extended to socialising after the game. Which meant a lot of laughing. It was a very happy time.

I recall the game when Wasim was brought on to bowl his medium paced off breaks to a mid-order batsman who'd annoyingly been at the crease way too long. Wasim rolled his arm with a slow looping ball and the batsman took the bait hitting the ball high and long to the midfield, which was where I happened to be fielding.  

I ran left and backwards, eyes on the ball. At the appropriate moment both hands extended to reach the ball and as it skidded into my left hand I felt a painful snap in the little finger: the ball ricocheting off the left hand into the right. Fortunately I managed to hold the ball, which meant the batsman was on his way and Wasim had could add another wicket to his bowling average.

As I threw the ball to the closest fielder he could see I was hurt and ran over to help me. Wasim saw that I'd dislocated the finger. I showed him the hand and without saying more than, 'take a deep breath' he pulled it back into place. He patted me on the back and smiled as he ran back to take up the ball for the incoming batsman.

I called after him to say thanks. He turned mid-stride with his usual fluidity and called back saying, 'you Aussies are tough yes?' And I laughed with him as two friends laugh when they share the common ground. To this day I retain the memento of a slight kink in the last knuckle of the little finger. It's a small price for such a fond memory.

The cricket season in England in 1980 ended all too soon and I returned to travelling. I never saw Wasim or my teammates again. When I think of them I remember the 'Geordie' spirit, the fun and the great 'crack' (good conversation) we shared. And I remember Wasim and his easygoing and gentle nature, the way he welcomed me, and the laughter.

My Google search revealed Wasim's obituary. I learned he'd passed away a few years back in his early 50's. He'd had a heart attack at the age of 54 while playing an over 50's game of cricket in England. I imagine he'd brought his fine qualities to that game as he had done to every game he played, and that others knew him and think of him as I do now: as a man of style and grace in all things.


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©2009 Martin Challis
©2009 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Martin Challis is a teacher, program designer and facilitator of
organisational change. He holds a doctorate in Creative Industries.
He's also a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.

For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives
Read his Blog


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

August 2009

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