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What My 12-Year-Old Taught Me About Cricket

It's not about being on the first team, it's about playing the game

22/11/2016 05:56 SAST | Updated 22/11/2016 09:07 SAST
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What's a single mum to do with a 12-year-old who's only ambition is to play cricket?

In my journey as a single mother, I have learned so much from the pleasant, generous human being who is my 12-year-old son, Amr. Perhaps some of the most invaluable lessons have come from observing his attitude towards the love of his life – cricket.

A few weeks ago I lifted up my phone and clicked on Record as he readied himself at the crease, during a school cricket match.

He played a cover drive next, sending the ball all the way to the boundary. My heart literally overflowed with pride. I posted the video to Instagram, giving it my frequent #DiariesOfACricketSingleMum hashtag, and shared it on Facebook. The second team coach shared it with the first team coach, and the following weekend Amr was asked to open the batting for the first team in place of a player who wasn't available.

A video posted by Fatima Asmal (@fatima_asmal) on

As fate would have it, the match was rained out, and in his next two matches for the second team, Amr scored a combined total of less than ten runs.

Like soccer and rugby, cricket is a team sport, but it is a very different one. Here individual performances – batting and bowling and sometimes, fielding too – are crucial and a team's defeat can be entirely blamed on a dropped catch, or a bad over towards the end of the match.

But as toddler, Amr already decided that this is what he wanted to do, and that hasn't changed. He doesn't have an ambition beyond playing cricket. This is largely thanks to my parents – my mum (now 67) used to roll a plastic ball to him when he was a toddler, and crawling, and he would hit it with a tiny plastic bat. By the time he was four, my dad (now 81) had already started taking him to the local sports ground to teach him the basics of the game and filling his head with cricketing trivia about legends like Sirs Don Bradman and Vivian Richards and .

So here we are - him on the brink of high school, me, an almost 41-year-old single mum, often accompanied by my mother, using an iPhone app to navigate our way to schools in areas we have never been to, and once there, either baking in the sun or wistfully willing the grey skies above to disappear.

Then comes the wait – will they bat or bowl first? He's an opening batsman, so once the decision is made, he's padding up, while I'm wondering if he'll face the first ball. Then it's a matter of hoping he doesn't make the dreaded duck. Then it's all about seeing him through to double figures and praying he gets to fifty.

I say "seeing him through" because although I'm nowhere near the pitch, I feel as if I am right there beside him. I shout his name regularly during games, and if I'm not mistaken, every now and then, he steals a glance at me.

A few years ago, I read an article online, in which a fellow sports mum wrote that irrespective of how her children performed, she would simply say to them: "I love watching you play." While I may occasionally ask him why he let his batting partner run him out, I have since adopted this as my mantra: "It doesn't matter what happened, I just love watching you play cricket."

This isn't as easy as it sounds. I'm dying to march right up to the school coach and ask why my son, an all-rounder since forever, doesn't get to bowl anymore. But instead, I smile and ask if he will be bowling again, so that his after-school coaches can decide what to focus on during his sessions.

I'm curious to know why my son wasn't selected to play for the first team to begin with. But, I know that questioning the coach would upset Amr, and I leave it at that, thanking the coach when he gives him the opportunity to fill in for an absent player. (Although, every time that's happened thus far, the match has been rained out. I've told Amr that maybe this is God's way of telling us he isn't ready for that milestone just yet).

In short, as did my dad before me, at the local sports grounds, back then when Amr was little, I too try to not take things too seriously.

It should be parents who encourage their children to enjoy the game irrespective of the result, but ironically in my case, it has been the other way around. My son has never thrown a cricket tantrum, at least not since he was toddler, playing plastic ball kitchen cricket with my dad. The umpire lifts his finger, and Amr calmly walks, taking off his helmet, smiling, and always stopping for a chat with the incoming batsman. After removing his pads, he walks straight to the scoreboard, to take on the arduous task of scoring. In the car, on the way home, he's full of praise for teammates who have excelled on the day.

I've always wondered how it is that he takes it all in his stride with such ease and nonchalance, especially considering that we are a single-parent family, and have faced many challenges unrelated to cricket. One day, in the car, Amr answered this question for me. "I don't want to be a famous cricketer," he said. "It doesn't matter if nobody knows me. I just want to play cricket."