The cold statistical proof of Old Boys captain Ben Middlebrook’s undiluted passion for cricket, despite recently turning 40, can be found in his runs column this season. Amid the two ducks, three ones and three other failures are five half centuries.
As Old Boys continued winning, with their explosive allrounder Aaron Hazlewood garnering most attention, Middlebrook quietly assembled another respectable season at the crease.
In 11 first-grade innings, he has scored 306 runs at an average of 34 and with a highest score of 63. When you include his five Twenty20 innings, he has scored 496 runs at 38.2 and with a highest score of 87.
His MyCricket statistics only date back to 2012-13 – a microcosm of his 24-year first-grade career, which started at age 16 at Albion. But it shows that he has an overall average of 30.99.
After all those top-grade seasons, after making his grade debut in fourth grade for North Tamworth in 1990-91 and after playing for four clubs in two towns, his enthusiasm for the game has not waned.
Speaking to him on the phone on Friday, you could almost feel him recoil when asked if his could be his last season. “I’ll definitely be playing next year,” he said.
Indeed. And why wouldn’t he go again?
Ahead of Old Boys’ final-round clash against City United at Riverside 1 on Saturday and Sunday, Middlebrook’s Old Boys are heavy favourites to win their fifth consecutive premiership. Presiding over this fabulous run has been big Ben – a no fuss character whose addiction to cricket is multi-faceted.
“I just enjoy the camaraderie about it. [Playing] cricket’s been a big part of my life, but it’s also been a big social part of my life. It’s always nice to meet new people and that. You play hard on the field but have a beer with them after. It’s a good social sport in all aspects.”
Old Boys are expected to win the minor premiership and play West Tamworth in the major semi-final next weekend. In the final round they will face a City United side who have been the feel-good story of the season – going from one win in the two previous seasons to five wins this season.
City leapfrogged North Tamworth into fourth spot after an eight-run defeat of the Redbacks at Riverside 2 last Saturday.
Middlebrook, the Tamworth District Cricket Association president, said that if Norths beat Souths in the final round and Old Boys beat City, then either Souths or City would finish in fourth sport. That, he added, would be determined by the bonus points Souths and City secured in the final round.
But he said if Souths won, City would finish fourth regardless of how they fared against Old Boys.
He complimented City on their revival: “They are doing well. They have some good players.”
And he applauded Old Boys for keeping the fire burning: “Our team’s changed a hell of a lot since the first premiership we won. We’re always evolving and we’re always getting new guys into our side. And it’s trying to give them roles to make sure there’s still success. So far so good.”