That winning feeling – and inspiration

Intoxicated.

It’s the only way I can describe the way I feel since I became a die-hard cricket fan.

There are moments where I grin broadly for no reason that would be apparent to anyone around me – I’m sure many have thought I must be a crayon short of a box at times.

There has also been many a sleepless night, plenty of distraction from what I should have been doing at work, inexplicable energy for all things cricket at moments when I would normally be feeling destroyed, and I’ve driven everyone I know mad by talking about cricket incessantly.

I guess it’s a lot like being in love…

It’s not even all about the winning – I’ve been feeling odd in this way on and off since Ashton Agar’s record-making Ashes debut innings in July, all through that challenging Ashes series in England and it hit full swing by the Gabba Test in November. I’ll admit it’s intensified since then with the extraordinary success of our boys.

Taking a break from the heat day 3 to check out the view from the MCG rafters - watching Milo Kids girls doing their thing.

Taking a break from the heat day 3 to check out the view from the MCG rafters – watching Milo Kids girls doing their thing.

Only now, at the ripe age of 40 do I finally understand the joy of being a sports spectator, of  getting caught up in the fortunes of a favourite team and captivated by the complexities of the game.

If I’m honest, I’ll recognise it as another form of my favourite pastime, which til now had mostly presented in the form of obsessively watching and re-watching favourite period dramas, or devouring historical documentaries.

I speak of course of escapism.

Mitch Johnson takes time between balls to sign countless signatures for fans young and old.

Mitch Johnson takes time between balls to sign countless signatures for fans – what a come back he’s made! Super inspiring.

Going crazy in the MCG crowd on Sunday when Chris Rogers achieved his maiden test century on Australian soil – and at his adopted home ground no less – will be a moment of joy frozen in time that remains with me for many years to come, a moment when I thought of nothing else.

It will probably inspire countless crazy-woman random grins as I recall that excitement, the charge in the air and my completely unguarded happiness at witnessing first hand this achievement by one of my favourite players – and ideally this life-affirming recollection will return to me again and again at times when I most need it. That achievement of a hard fought goal by a grafting, modest and down to earth person is particularly special to me.

Similarly I imagine I’ll also recall the memory of those English wickets falling steadily to Lyon to give him his first 5fer on Aussie soil Day 3 – amidst the madness of rubbish flying around the great cauldron after the abrupt cold change swept through, whipping up the on-field tempers in the process; and that final boundary shot by Watson to seal the eagerly anticipated win at the end of Day 4. I even found the spectacular fall of Aussie wickets on Day 2 strangely enthralling: the way a long form game can shift so suddenly is a great revelation to me.

We all need something to smile about. And I seem to have found cricket, finally, and made it a key part of that armoury that provides a source of joy and escape from the everyday.

Early on in 2nd session day 4 - Rogers waits for yet another long Cookie conference between overs. But the ton still came!

Early on in 2nd session day 4 – Rogers waits patiently for yet another long Cookie conference between overs. But the ton still came!

I’d be lying if I said it was all smiles and happiness. There are moments that have made me angry or frustrated – the poor behaviour of some of the crowd; time wasting such as in the last session of this Boxing Day Test when Cookie tested everybody’s patience with his lengthy conferences between overs, which only delayed the inevitable; learning the uncomfortable truth of the brutal sledging which is apparently common on field. Frankly, I’d rather just not know! Turn off those stump mikes. Call me a girl…

Aussies in the nets before the start of day 4 - inspiring hundreds of families there as well.

Aussies in the nets before the start of day 4 – inspiring hundreds there as well.

At the end of the day though, the intoxication of being so inspired to learn, to grow and have new experiences is a state of being that I wouldn’t give away for anything.

Who knows, it may even inspire me to start playing sport. Now that would be even more life changing.

Advertisements

A strange time to become a cricket tragic

I get some very odd, disbelieving looks when I talk enthusiastically about the current Ashes series, the Australian mens team, and how much I’m enjoying it all.

Admittedly, I’m a newcomer to the joys of cricket in general – and test cricket in particular – having only just discovered it in the past year. Two years ago I would have told you that watching or following five days of sport that may end up in no win for either side was a horrific waste of time.

Now, I get it.

The tactics, the drama, the stamina, the history, the rivalry, the vagaries of the weather, sleepless nights when the game’s on the other side of the world, the loony crowd and often even loonier commentators… It all adds to the appeal.

I hear and read so much commentary about how dire Australia is; how they’ll never regain their glory days; but then again they’re not as bad as many had predicted; how 2020 has killed the game and should be abolished (can’t agree more! horrid Americanized tripe); that the selectors should just pick a top six batting order and stick to it, and then again they should keep rotating players until each is proven worthy; that Clarke is the best captain we’ve had for years, and then that he’s lucky the current team is so shite or he’d never be picked as captain, and then that he’s a power hungry gambler with our national pride…

It only adds to my obsession.

Those decades of dominance just didn’t interest me in all. Where was the intrigue, the challenge, the drama if no one could match our team and put on a decent show? Frankly, it was just uninteresting. (I’m not dismissing the greatness of the achievement of our boys! But was it entertaining? Not to me.)

The topsy turvy Ashes series of the last decade caught my attention to some extent – if only because in 2004 I married an Englishman who’d spent his younger days playing cricket – and suddenly the outcome meant so much more. The heart stopping 2005 series registered a tiny sliver of interest in my consciousness and every subsequent series has brought another chance for one or other of us to gloat – this connection having outlived our marriage as it happens. Aah, the joys of sport!

But I believe I have to thank ABC Grandstand and my decision to take a break from life last year – seven months travelling Australia with ABC Local Radio as my main connection to the outside world – for turning me onto the joys of test cricket.

Sitting in my van late 2012 at my temporary caravan park home address in central Vic, making countless job applications and always with the radio on in the background, it was Michael Clarke’s extraordinary multi-century batting achievements that first captured and intrigued me.

Every now and then I’d go and check out the TV coverage in the camp kitchen; but there was a creepy guy there most of the time who I didn’t like talking to, and the players didn’t look remotely as good in person as they did in my head! Plus the TV commentary was (and still is!) absolutely dire. Give me the extraordinary company of verbose international ex-cricketers and experts you find on ABC Grandstand alongside  our Aussie staples like Maxwell, Morphett, O’Keeffe, Alderman and Lawson any day!

(I’ve now found a happy medium in my new home – TV on but muted, ABC Grandstand giving me 5 seconds lead on the visuals, and I’m getting used to those faces now) .

The back to back Ashes series is clearly well timed in terms of capitalising on my emerging obsession. To be honest, before the start of the first test I was wondering how excited I could get, given the predictions of a 10-0 drubbing. I was so not looking forward to the gloating…

Then Ashton Agar turned everything, and everyone, upside down. It was just what the game needed. Moments like that make cricket, and galvanise the troops. His near-ton when Australian seemed all but gone, Hughes’ mature and unswerving support of the man on debut, and the almost palpable raising of spirits of the team and all the Aussie supporters – it was almost magical. I knew then I was hooked, and suspect it’s got me for life now.

True, there probably haven’t been as many of these “moments” as most of us Aussies would like in the rest of the series. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them when they’ve come along – especially Rogers’ exciting and hard fought maiden ton at last, and Harris’ dominant bowling with stumps flying left right and centre (and in a twisted kind of way, even Broad’s reply with his own devastating bowling was exciting) and finally an opening Aussie partnership where both players had put on their batting pants that morning.

I don’t claim there hasn’t been pain. But isn’t that what it’s all about? The pain makes the pleasure – when it comes – all the sweeter. And it will come. I have absolute faith in that.

This difficult phase is just what the team needs. And just what Aussie supporters need too, frankly I think some have just gotten too cocky. A bit of humble pie is necessary every now and then. It shouts out a challenge to improve, to grow, to learn and to come out stronger at the other end.

I honestly believe a turn around is on the way. And I’m so looking forward to being a part of it now that I’ve dived headlong into the Aussie cricket family.