Cricket in the suburbs – a serene start to the season

When the full-time siren sounds at the AFL Grand Final that’s it for the footy season. The full stop of the final chapter. All that’s left is the trophy presentation, laps of honour and the post-season ritual of best and fairest nights. The season though has definitely ended. The start, exactly six months earlier, is equally as definite. There’s the first siren, the first bounce and things are officially underway.

The start of the cricket season could be heralded by the first ball of a home test series or the sound of Jim Maxwell’s voice on ABC radio but, really, the game of cricket is a far harder beast to pigeonhole than any football code.  It’s just not that easy to find a defined starting point.

In the way different types of deciduous trees sprout leaves in their own manner and with their own innate timing, cricket competitions of all types and levels start when their time is right. Perhaps the best harbinger of spring and summer is the first appearance of a cricket scorecard in the local paper.

The night of the 2018 AFL Grand Final, while Jimmy Barnes was belting out a quasi-rock concert on the MCG (for those who were in the mood to celebrate), Australia and New Zealand Women’s Cricket teams were playing out a close-fought T20 International at North Sydney Oval. For purists it was a form of cricketing perfection, with some of the best female players in the world, green roofs of the heritage grandstands, giant fig trees, manual scoreboard and picket fences. No clichés, just an idyllic setting.

Back on September 16 at Riverway Stadium in Townsville, the men’s domestic 50 over competition (the JLT cup) got underway with minimum of fanfare. It just started. Two days later and a continent away, the JLT cup continued at a venue as synonymous with cricket itself, the WACA. WA played NSW at the WACA which has been quietly been retired to heritage status, and is Perth’s version of North Sydney Oval.  It is a place to appreciate the finer points of the past, with a grass bank to lounge on and another manual scoreboard to admire.

The return of domestic cricket to the suburbs – North Sydney, Alan Border field, Glenelg and the Junction Oval in Melbourne – gives the early part of the season a serene feel. The giant football stadiums of the major cities (which these days offer little point of difference in terms of architectural style) lie in wait for the major international matches and the BBL. The suburban grounds with their grandstands, trees and fences carry on the business of the season as a whole.

In Around the Grounds I write about the importance of domestic competitions and minor international matches as part of cricket’s unique pyramid where every game, wherever and whenever it’s played, is part of a bigger picture.

Half a world away from the suburban venues hosting the JLT cup, Australia’s Test Squad is tuning up for what will be a hard-fought series against Pakistan in the UAE. The series that starts this coming Sunday is unofficially the launch of the international season. The cricket will be hard and absorbing, even if the stadiums are predominantly empty.

None of this is in any way bad, indeed it’s part of cricket’s charming ability to be itself and do things its own way. Because in the cricket world the season never really ends and there’s always a game about to start somewhere.

** Photo courtesy of Western Suburbs Junior Cricket Association

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