A million chances

Jarrod Kimber leans back on a plush sofa in his hotel room in Nagpur, India; voices drift up from the pool area where the New Zealand cricket team is relaxing. The man who once feared he may never know anything more than the outer suburbs of Melbourne where he was born and raised is covering the International Cricket Council’s World T20 Cup for ESPNcricinfo, the world’s largest cricket news website. They call him their Global Cricket Writer; he calls himself “mega word goblin” and “claw machine enthusiast”. He smiles and laughs often, his eyes glint like steel.

After an extraordinary eight years, Jarrod is confident in his ability, his position in life and his prospects. An unconscious arrogance escapes at times: few would launch into a story involving ABC Grandstand’s most iconic cricket commentator of the past forty years with the statement “when Jim Maxwell had just met me.” But he also knows he’s “lucky to be able to do this” – it could all have turned out so differently.

Twenty years ago, Jarrod the teenager couldn’t foresee a future worth living. He didn’t want to be in Epping forever, doing the kinds of jobs he saw around him. Everyone he knew – at school, his family and their friends – chorused that success at high school was essential if he wanted a good job and a good life. But despite being considered bright, and excelling until the age of 14, he’d become increasingly bored, disengaged or just plain absent. He was in danger of getting to know the police a lot better than he already did. He didn’t feel like there was anyone he could talk to.

‘Between 15 and 17, I remember thinking “I know for a fact I cannot finish high school. So basically I’m going to have, you know, a succession of shitty jobs for the rest of my life and live in the outer suburbs. Is that what that means?” And it wasn’t that I fantasised about suicide, or I was even depressed. It was almost a pragmatic decision in some ways, just like “I don’t get it, I don’t get why I need to get up in the morning, I don’t get why I need to pretend anymore. We now all know what the situation is and I don’t want to be involved with that”.’

Soon after his seventeenth birthday, he dropped out of school. Three years of false starts followed: more than 20 different jobs and gardening school were tried and discarded before he finally found something – phone sales at Qantas – that stuck. But it wasn’t enough; it didn’t point towards a future he cared about.

By the age of 19, Jarrod knew that he wanted to be a writer. No one he knew made a living from writing. Screen writing in America was the dream, to the extent there was one; not being able to see a pathway to that tipped him into another bleak period in his early twenties.

‘But then there was cricket,’ he says: the one thing that kept him going during those times when nothing else made sense. Born into a cricket obsessed family – his first visit to the club that would dominate his young life was at ten days old – it was playing, training, watching and looking forward to the next cricket season that gave him a reason to keep getting up each day. The nature of the sport – it’s leisurely pace, the relative solitude of it – gave him the space and time he needed to think his way out of his predicament. His immersion in it gave him a wealth of knowledge and insight that would later become invaluable.

When he was 23, Jarrod realised the life answers he needed were right in front of him in the shape of Adam Gilchrist, whose outstanding success with the cricket bat could be attributed to an attacking style of play that showed no fear.

‘I remember writing about Gilchrist and thinking, if you look at the way he plays, that’s kind of the way I’d like to live my life. Which is, instead of thinking about all the consequences, think about – if that shot does go for six, and the next one goes for six, and the next one goes for six, what that will feel like? And also, if you do play and miss, well then you play and miss. If you do go out, then there’s another day.’

In the years that followed, he developed blogging expertise and drafted three books. He taught himself video editing basics, which led to filmmaking studies at college, then started a film production company with friends.

He launched the cricket with balls blog in September 2007. A bit of fun at first, it was drawn from weekly chats with his two best mates over pizza and beer, and warned readers they were not in for a mainstream media ride: “We are not journalists so don’t expect us to use reason, facts and common sense to win you over. We will use anecdotes, passionate ramblings, odd comparisons, humour and just a touch of bullsh1t in order to entertain, inform and titillate you.” It soon attracted followers drawn to the irreverent writing style and left-field pop culture references, which was underpinned by his deep knowledge of the game.

By the start of January 2008, the blog was receiving 100-150 hits a day. Less than a fortnight later, it was 1000-plus a day after a post went viral. By March, the Deputy Editor of the UK’s Wisden Cricketer magazine was asking whether he’d thought of becoming a cricket writer.

In July 2008, Jarrod took a one-way flight to England. Freelance journalism, books, podcasts, vodcasts, and magazine editing followed. Last year his latest book was published – Test cricket: the unauthorised biography. The documentary film Death of a Gentleman that he co-directed recently won an award in the UK. Consulting to the ABC on reshaping their Grandstand cricket coverage and commentating on a Test match at the MCG are other highlights of the past few years.

Jarrod is at his most animated and emphatic when he explains why he’s been willing to risk the continuation of his career by pointing out the failures of powerful cricket governance bodies, or of beloved media companies; anything that limits the growth potential of the sport he loves is worth fighting for. It’s his way of giving back.

It wasn’t only his career that benefited from the “no fear” approach: thirteen months after landing in England, Jarrod and Miriam married. They had struck up a friendship through his blog, and she offered him a place to stay when he moved across the globe. They now have two young sons. Jarrod isn’t joking when he declares that cricket gave him everything.

He also isn’t joking when he reflects on how he wishes things had been different when he was at school, despite having found a pathway to success.

‘I think that the way we’re trained through society is “you get one chance”,’ he exclaims, bristling with energy, his eyes glinting. ‘You don’t get one chance, you get a fucking million chances, and you can fuck up so much along the way.’ He pauses for the tiniest second as a grin returns to his face. ‘And I’m a perfect example of that.’

Jarrod Kimber’s mantra to “play like fear is not an option” is one that deserves to be shared widely. Maybe building a good life really is as simple as backing yourself, giving it your best shot, and seeing how it goes. It might just take you to places you never imagined.

 

This profile was written for an assessment during my first semester of Professional Writing and Editing studies at RMIT in 2016. Jarrod was incredibly generous with his time and expertise throughout four hours of cross-global interviews via Facetime. As well as gaining inspiration and motivation from his story, I’ve also benefited from his advice and tips about the business of writing; and earning a good grade for this was a bonus rather than the end game. I probably now have enough material to write a different article about Jarrod every quarter for the next two years! You can read Jarrod’s latest work on his author profile at ESPNcricinfo.

 

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