“After many years”, wrote Albert Camus, “during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the obligations of man I owe to sport, and I learned it on the playing fields at University.” It wasn’t as though Camus’ experience of life was narrow: a prodigiously gifted journalist, author and philosopher, he learned plenty about morality and obligations fighting for the French Resistance against the Nazis. And yet his days as goalkeeper for the University of Algiers team lingered in his memory.
I have played for cricket clubs where winning matches was enough. But at Sydney University our aspirations – or obligations, to pick up Camus’ term – extend beyond that. We want to win matches, of course, as many as possible. And we do it reasonably well: in 2015-16, First Grade reached the final of its T20 competition, Second Grade reached the finals yet again, Thirds and Fourths won their premierships and our undergraduates took out the Australian University Games title. We’re committed to maintaining, and improving upon, that level of performance. But we need to look beyond it.
We owe obligations to Cricket NSW: to develop players who progress in the game, and to play the game the right way. In 2015-16, we supplied Ed Cowan, Ryan Craters, Nick Larkin, Will Somerville and (as 12th man) Nigel Cowell to the NSW Sheffield Shield team, as well as Jonte Pattison and Tim Ley to the Futures League (where Nick Larkin was named player of the tournament). It remains a critical focus of the club to provide our players with a platform from which they can realistically aspire to higher honours in the game. And, as a club, we won the SCA’s Spirit of Cricket Award, which was pleasing confirmation that we play the game as it ought to be played.
We owe obligations to the University. As a sporting club belonging to an educational institution, we are committed to offering our players the best possible support as they strive to combine academic training with playing their chosen sport at the highest possible level. As both of these activities are more fiercely competitive than ever, young men who try to excel in both require not only immense personal resilience, but also powerful support systems – which it is the club’s obligation to provide. And we owe obligations to our players as well: to challenge and support them, to extend their education onto the sporting field, and to provide them with rich opportunities to grow not only as cricketers, but also as men.
But it’s reciprocal. A player who wants to learn the lessons Camus learned needs to wrestle with the paradox that cricket is a team game full of individual contests – and that what is best for the team may not always be best for the individual. As Camus wrote, “the first thing I learned was that the ball doesn’t always come from where you expect it.” A batsman can be called upon to sacrifice his wicket in a run chase, or bat in a position he dislikes, to help the team. Someone has to bowl into the wind. It’s how a player copes with these reversals and disappointments that proves his character. At Sydney University Cricket, we applaud the players who succeed when things go their way. But there’s a special admiration reserved for the player who doesn’t get the breaks but still does the right thing by his team.
The Club’s Board has recently settled upon a four-year strategic plan for the period 2016-20. It will provide a clear framework for the decisions we make over the next few seasons, and sets out how the club plans to fulfil its obligations to Cricket NSW, to the University, to our players and to our supporters. And, in turn, it sets out our expectations of our players – not for the sake of imposing rules, but because a player who learns to contribute meaningfully and purposefully to the club will get to look back one day and recall with pride just how much he learned about life on the University playing fields.
Adjunct Professor Max Bonnell