In Australia, it’s just not summer without cricket. We play it at our picnics and barbeques, in our backyards, on our beaches, roads, in parks and world-class stadiums. Indoors, the Australian cricket team with their trademark baggy green caps, dominate our television screens. In Australia, cricket is almost a religion, uniting players and fans from all walks of life.
It’s not just Australia that’s cricket-obsessed from November to February. Cricket-lovers across the world avidly follow the Australian season, which pits Australia against other top cricketing nations in matches in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart and Perth. The competition is made up of test matches which last from three to five days, one-day internationals and the Twenty20 series – where each team plays an innings and is bowled 20 overs. In a typical test match, play starts at 10am and finished at 6pm. The one day internationals and Twenty20 matches can start in the afternoon and draw into the later evening.
Touring nations rotate each year with the West Indies and Pakistan coming in summer 2009/2010. Other countries boasting cricket prowess include South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia’s favourite ‘Ashes’ rivals - England. The Ashes is an age-old competition for the charred remains of a wicket, held in an urn in London’s MCC.
Australia’s love for the game is evident on the pitch - The Australian cricket team ranks number 1 in test cricket and number 2 in one day internationals. We worship our fast bowlers, spin bowlers and medium pace bowlers and even our under-arm bowlers! Our cricketing heroes include Sir Donald Bradman, Ritchie Benaud, the Chappell brothers, Lillee, Thomo & Max, the Waugh brothers, Shane Warne, and Glenn McGrath. Cricket creates national heroes, and heralds some of this country’s greatest sporting moments.
This is a centuries-old gentleman’s game that is enjoyed across all stratas of society. Players observe the tradition of stopping for lunch, rain and poor light. While members take pride of position in the exalted members stand, the ‘yobbo’s offer their boisterous support from ‘the hill’.
Cricket inspires great passion, with cricket fans travelling the earth to watch their heroes. Fan bases are organised and tour together, united by good will and undying loyalty to their teams. The British have the Barmy Army, Australian fans are the Fanatics. Watch the crowds rise in jubilation and ask ‘howzat?’ when the umpire points to the sky to praise a bowler or fieldsman’s prowess. See the batsman duck his head in shame at being called ‘out’.
For the uninitiated, this gentleman’s game also has its own unique jargon. Watch any match and you’ll hear the commentators mention innings and overs, silly mid on, silly mid off, slips, ducks and golden ducks, googlies, fours, sixes, and centuries. An innings is when a team bats and an over is what a bowler bowls. There are six balls per over before a new bowler comes on at the opposite end of the pitch.
If you’re attending your first cricket match, here’s a rundown. Two batsmen stand in front of three wickets at each end of the pitch. The batsmen face the bowler, aiming to hit the ball as far as possible before it is intercepted by the fieldsmen. Once the ball is hit, players run between the wickets while the fieldsmen sprint and dive to retrieve the ball and throws it back to the wicket keeper. The wicket keeper has the job of knocking bales from the wickets and seeking the umpire’s declaration that the batsman is out.
In Australia, the cricket pitch is ‘hallowed’ turf. Spectators sit in the stands of world-class arenas, never venturing onto the ground on which the game is played. The grounds are large, and mentioned around dinner tables like the old mates that they are - the Gabba in Brisbane, The Wacca in Perth, the SCG in Sydney and the unrivalled sporting ground of the ‘g’ , the MCG in Melbourne. In these epic arenas, a ‘six’, where the ball leaves the batsman’s bat and sails unhindered into the stands is a true sporting feat. A ‘four’ can see a fieldsman run the diameter of the arena and slide into the wall of the stands in an attempt to stop the ball.
In summer, Australians watch live cricket on televisions in their homes, pubs and shop windows, and discuss the matches in cafes and bars. Crowds swarm across city streets and parks to the cricket grounds. From beaches to bus stops, bystanders with radios attached to their ears share scores of 4 for 460 or ‘declared’ with the people around them.
You’ll see the Australian team face the West Indies and Pakistan teams as they tour Australia for the long, hot summer of cricket. The big one, The Ashes, will follow in 2010. If you’re coming to Australia, watch the cricket! It’s just not summer without it.