When the Sydney Thunder take the field for Sunday’s Sydney Smash against cross-town rivals the Sydney Sixers, they’ll have one particular fan in their hearts.
The Thunder’s typical preparation for match day involves nets sessions, game simulations and time in the gym, but in the days before the 19th edition of the all-Sydney derby, the team sat down with Thunder super fan Reg Chard, 98, to hear about his service in World War II.
The Thunder playing group listened as Mr. Chard shared stories of bravery and mateship on the Kokoda Track and left with a renewed sense of both perspective and gratitude.
“Some of Reg’s stories were incredible,” said Thunder star Alex Hales, with whom Mr. Chard had immediate rapport.
“What that generation went through in their lifetime is almost unthinkable. It makes you really appreciate the world we live in now.
“For him to take the time out of his day to talk to us was really special.”
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Mr. Chard said he could tell the Thunder players had been moved by his stories, and that some even became teary-eyed.
“You could see their faces change, their eyes were opening wide. They were taking it all in,” Mr. Chard told News Corp.
“Every one of those men came up and said ‘Thank you’ afterwards. That’s worth more to me than money.
“They’re very nice chaps.”
“It was pretty inspiring to hear (Reg’s) story,” said Thunder all-rounder Nathan McAndrew.
“There were some really key things he was talking about, things like mateship, that really resonated with our group.
“But what he had to deal with was far, far greater than just some Big Bash pressure, that’s for sure.”
For McAndrew, the Sydney Smash is personal.
The bowling all-rounder made his professional T20 debut in the derby clash with the Sixers back in BBL|05.
A record crowd, 38,000-strong, turned out to the SCG that day and witnessed Shane Watson guide the Thunder to just its second Smash victory in nine outings.
Since that afternoon in the summer of 2016, the all-Sydney rivalry has meant more to McAndrew than it does to most.
“It’s a very special day,” he said.
“It’s an amazing time of the year, the Big Bash, and we’re very fortunate to have a Boxing Day game. It’s obviously a huge spectacle and it certainly means a lot.”
The Sydney Smash also serves as a biannual reminder of how far McAndrew has come in his cricket journey – from a young kid anxious to be sharing the dressing room with his idols to a staple of the Thunder’s line-up in the years that have followed.
“I certainly at that age really doubted myself and whether I was going to be good enough,” McAndrew said, recalling his debut.
“I think I’ve come quite a long way from the player and person that I was back in BBL|05.
“I definitely have a lot more confidence in myself and my abilities nowadays.
“(As a young cricketer) you have a bit of anxiety before a game back then. Now you still get a little bit excited before the game and you can’t wait to get out there, but you’re a lot more relaxed.”
The Sixers, second only to the Perth Scorchers on the BBL ladder, will be out to make sure Boxing Day is anything but relaxing for the Thunder.
The defending champions have won three of the last four Smashes and “a good contest with plenty of niggle” was firmly atop Daniel Hughes’ Christmas wishlist ahead of the Boxing Day clash.
Having been contracted to either the Sixers or Thunder for every summer since BBL|02, Hughes has featured in the Sydney Smash for a decade but says when it comes to facing the old foe, the sheen never wears off.
“It’s a huge game. It’s something we always look forward to on the calendar when the Big Bash comes around,” said the specialist batter.
“There are a lot of NSW teammates on (the Thunder) as well, so we always try to get one over them.
“It’s just an exciting time, I can’t wait for Boxing Day.”
Hughes is “absolutely” looking forward to having it out with the familiar faces in lime green, and won’t be holding back on the trash talk.
“The niggle is great for the game. Why not go out there and have a bit of a crack at each other? I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“Both teams are playing really well.
“It should be a good contest.”
With only modest crowds turning out to Sydney’s Big Bash games so far in a summer rocked by poor weather and record numbers of Covid-19 cases, Hughes urged Sixers fans to rise from their Christmas food comas and buy tickets for the rivalry clash.
“The Sydney Smash is awesome. It’s always a good game,” he said.
“It’s two really good lists going hard at it.
“It always goes down to the last over, so I just encourage everyone to get out there and watch a good game of cricket.”