11 bats, 11 deployment's, over 11 years – ex SAS Operator and Team Commander unveils the psychology of a soldier and the game of cricket in new book
Former Australian soldier, Anthony “Harry” Moffit, knows too well the power and influence of what a game of cricket can have on and off the field. In his first book, “Eleven Bats”, Harry shares his stories as an SAS Operator and Team Commander and how cricket had a profound impact on his life, on and off the pitch and battlefield.
From 2002 – 2013 Harry took a bat and ball on each deployment and began a tradition of organising matches where he was sent. Whether it was in the mountains of East Timor with a fugitive rebel leader, or on the dusty streets of Baghdad, or in exposed Forward Operating Bases in the hills of Afghanistan. Soldiers, locals and even visiting politicians played in these spontaneous, yet often bridge-building games.
The end result was 11 bats, 11 deployments over 11 years, signed by fellow soldiers, local peoples, politicians and generals, and even a couple of Royals.
In the book, Harry talks about his fallen mates and his challenging and often complex operations – and then always coming back to the humble game of cricket.
According to Harry, the odd game of cricket became so much more than a time to relax and unwind.
“Cricket played a powerful role in my service, both in and outside of it.
“Outside of the unit, the Applecross Cricket Club kept me grounded. I had a swathe of civilian friends who, though respectful, were less impressed by my military service and simply accepted me as ‘Moff’ a club member and contributor. They normalised my surreal existence where being away was like being at home and being at home was like being away. A great example of this is that when I told them that I was writing a book called Eleven Bats they immediately sledged me in saying “you should have called it ‘Bats Eleven’, referring to my usual batting position down the order. I often reflect on the ACC and its role of allowing me to process all the extreme experiences from service. Somehow telling stories to those blokes, and women, about my time and how I felt was immensely therapeutic. They not only asked what I did but how I felt about it which was a great assistance mentally when I think back about it. The people in the club became lifelong friends and I took great comfort when I deployed that they would all keep an eye out for my family and interests at home. I love them all and the club and hope to return to play my 100th game there one day.
“Inside my service, the bats are emblematic of the profound impact and role cricket played in my life in service and the book covers this is depth. They helped us unwind and recover from the trauma of war. Break out a game, after a death of a colleague or a trauma and it is not long before others join in, a laugh is breached, a sledge is offered, and a wicket is taken allowing all to release the tension with a smile or a laugh. Cricket built rapport with the local populace where we would either paly with skilled locals (e.g., Afghanistan where it is a national sport) or teaching unskilled players (e.g., Iraq and Timor had not seen cricket)—but such is the game it is easy to pick up and play immediately regardless of your gender, background, or age. We even used it to collect intel and once had an exchange of sledges with the enemy over a game of cricket.”
“It turns out that these bats served a greater purpose including intelligence gathering, winning hearts and minds, and even inspiring a discussion with the enemy.
“Astoundingly, we had the Taliban sledging us on our so-called mediocre cricket skills in the middle of a warzone.”
Book Excerpt: “Often, while we were playing these games, Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters were watching from the hills, talking about us to each other on their radios. For some reason they were less interested in shooting at us than in badmouthing our cricket technique.
“Tell them to come down out of the hills for a game. I’ll show ’em who can play cricket.’ The interpreter talked in Pashto over the radio, and likely surprised the enemy with the invitation. ‘Tell ’em whoever loses has to leave the valley,’ I said. To nobody’s surprise, they declined saying we would call the planes to bomb them if they came down, which strangely, in my mind, suggested they were vaguely considering playing us. In all honesty, we would have bombed them. In fact, later that night, we ended up in a firefight with them and called in air support to bomb a cave that many of them ran into. They should have got one last game in.”
“The reason for writing “Eleven Bats” was simple for me. I not only wanted to reflect on the 30 years which I dedicated my life to the Australian Defence Force, but as a reminder that through it all, cricket was there for me to keep me sane and grounded. Who knew that a bat and ball could have such an impact.”
“To choose a favourite bat, now that is difficult”, Harry says. “Bat 1 that kicked it off or bat 2 which is hand-made and used after the Ghurkha tragedy in 2003.
“Aesthetically, it would be bat 10, the one with Prince Harry and Prince Phillip’s signature on it.
“with respect to cricket playing memories, it would be bat 11 as that is the one that I spent many hours; playing with the Ghurkha guards and street kids in Kabul.
“Military mission wise, it is definitely the Timor bats, because, almost impossibly, Alfredo Reinardo and Jose Ramos Horta’s signatures lay side-by-side on the bat - their history speaks for itself.
“However, emotionally and most poignantly, it is the bat with Sean McCarthy’s signature. The bat was with us in the car with us when he was killed, and I was WIA and sent home to Australia early. That bat, which we had been playing with only hours before, symbolises the thin veneer between life and death in Afghanistan; one minute a joyous game of cricket, the next profound tragedy”
ABOUT ANTHONY ‘HARRY’ MOFFITT:
Anthony 'Harry' Moffitt recently retired from the Australian Defence Force after almost thirty years, most of which was spent with Australia's elite Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment as a Team Commander and Team Specialist.
He has served in eleven active deployments, including being wounded in action in 2008.
Harry completed his time with the SAS as its Human Performance Manager. Now, he is a registered Psychologist and runs a human performance consultancy, Stotan Group, working with sports teams, the military and across industry. He is the singer/songwriter for original rock band The Externals. He remains a cricket tragic.