Graham Bonney was finished with cricket til The Reds came knocking. Callum McCrow speaks to a special cricketer and a unique coach.
Before our interview, Graham espouses the values of proper cricket. Eschewing trendy craft beers- he sips from a cold can of VB in one hand, and puffs from a dart in the other. Lounging comfortably in one of the clubs thin silver chairs, our coach could almost look regal while he speaks, drinks and smokes seemingly simultaneously.
Graham has pedigree as a cricket traditionalist. Learning his trade in Adelaide as a junior, he played district cricket for four years, eventually changing to club cricket, and finally moving to Melbourne where he founded the Clarkefield cricket club, successfully winning a flag with the nascent club. Only when Clarkefield folded due to the pressures facing many clubs in Australia did Graham, with some other dude he knew, decide to join the Royal Park Reds.
By the time Graham joined, the club had lost seven semi finals in a row, a painful record which had left its share of frustrations. In spite of Grahams’ inexperience at the club, he tasked himself with breaking the voodoo. “They picked me to perform under pressure, and I could see how much it meant to them”
The sense of leadership was informed by painful experiences at Clarkefield “I’ve lost finals playing bad shots before, it was nightmarish, I didn’t sleep for days”. Desperate to avoid a repeat of the experience, when Graham played for the reds, he insisted on grinding the other team down- even full tosses were bunted away for singles. To Graham, aggressive strokemaking and pressuring the bowler are overrated. “when batsmen get caught on the boundary and say ‘the shot was on’ it makes me sick- take some personal responsibility”.
While the strongly held attitudes might be controversial, the results weren’t. After winning the semi final that year, the reds went on to win the flag for the first time since 2012/13. It’s a win that many who played in that team hold as one of their brightest memories of the reds, as evidenced by the club insignia many got tattooed on their body afterward.
Only two years later, time caught up with Graham and he retired, but recognising the value his decades of cricketing experience provided, the club decided to instate him as coach. It’s in this role that Graham’s passion for cricket, especially the stodgy defensive kind, finds a true outlet.
The approach to coaching is uncomplicated. Batters need to focus on getting a start, and playing sensibly. Bowlers need to keep it full, and on or outside off stump. Perhaps more importantly than the basic structure of net sessions however, is the fact that in spite of Graham’s healthy disgust for poor shots and legside wides, the people who receive the most attention are those who are most willing to put the work in.
That’s because, to Graham, technique and talent are overrated “Cricket is 30% skill” he says “and 70% mental, I’ve seen shit batsmen score hundreds because they apply themselves and they don’t get out”. It’s for this reason that Graham, with an equitable attitude that’s enjoyably reminiscent of socialism, considers effort to be as valuable as any sense of innate talent.
Graham has made vital contributions to the Reds as a coach and player, but when asked about his defining impact, club treasurer and local legend Cath said “the party”. The answer is in line with Graham’s explanation that he joined the reds because he enjoyed playing them, and liked social scene. Indeed, for a player who is so passionate about winning, it’s telling that graham decided to travel to a club so far from his Sunbury home which is characterised by equitability (softness) and social life.
Cath’s answer also highlights the uniqueness of Graham’s character. Initially it seemed odd that a person so willing to get loose, would be such a patient and defensive cricketer. Perhaps it’s because for Graham, winning seems to exist in the world of sensory experience- enjoyable the same way as a smoke (or twenty), a beer (or ten), or a great pizza (just one, gotta leave room for dessert (which is ten beers and twenty smokes of course)) might be. Winning finals was such a damned good feeling for Graham, he was willing to sacrifice fun for the reward. In the same way he sacrifices his time to coach, and sit down for protracted and rambling interviews.
Graham goes to leave the clubhouse, ending our interview surprisingly early- another club member tries to entice him into “one more beer”- but Graham wisely refuses. “I’m being good, I’m being good!” he insisted. And he was being good, that night, and many others at the Reds.
The Royal Park Reds have begun training of sorts. They are still waiting for any of these mates to arrive. They live in hope... It could be you
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