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.

Turning English: learning to love live Ashes

I’ve always been fascinated by England. Well, as long as I can remember anyway.

Thinking super carefully, I can probably trace it back to my first day of grade seven, when Peter arrived at my primary school – new to town, tall dark and handsome with a cute English accent and brown leather sandals. I was smitten, and (nearly) all things English have caught my attention ever since.

I did eventually go out with Peter by the end of that year. But the start of high school after our blissful summer holiday saw us head off to different schools, cruelly divided by the major highway that runs through my home town and the school catchment areas dictated by it. Within a short time I was distracted by a crush on an older guy at my new school, and Peter and I eventually became virtual strangers.

Sadly my new crush – whom I never had any chance of even remotely being noticed by anyway – turned out to be a bit of a knob. (Actually, come to think of it, he reminds me a bit of Shane Warne – physically at least.)

But by then, it was too late. Peter had moved on. He’s now married to an older girl who lived down the road from my childhood home, who I was friends with through school. So for me the lovely Peter remains the proverbial one who got away…

And what has this got to do with cricket I hear you ask?

Well, I’m wondering whether the knob of an Aussie jerk who distracted me from that lovely English boy is my childhood crush equivalent of the Aussie Army compared to the Barmy Army.

Let’s just say that my first experience of live Ashes cricket at the MCG on the second day of the Boxing Day Test on Friday fell a little short of expectations!

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View from Day 2 seats… when Australia tumbled, and the Aussie Army rumbled.

Having bought the cheapest tickets possible and therefore ended up in a bay a little too square on, in a seat too far back and a lot too close to the Aussie Army bays, by the end of the day I was thoroughly embarrassed by the behaviour of that green and gold throng.

The number of people ejected from those bays (even if some probably were for dubious reasons) and the obnoxious and totally unnecessary chanting and taunting of the England players really upset me. As did the constant distractions from the on-field action – there were apparently fists flying on and off in that section for much of the third session, which I tried studiously to ignore but it was hard at times when there were so many rows of people in front standing up to have a gawk.

Call me a traditionalist, but I went to watch the cricket – not the police and security officers trying to control yobbos.

By comparison – although the Barmies are famously vocal and bullish about supporting their team, and do have some cheek about their taunts, I haven’t seen or heard them be anywhere near as insulting and obnoxious as the Aussie supporters.

And at least they show signs of some talent and culture. The Aussies don’t appear to manage anything more creative than changing the name in their “X is a wanker” chant. Charming.

I find it an interesting reflection of the respective cultural capital of the opposing team captains… but perhaps the less said the better on the posh school boy vs mongrel argument.

Anyway, so it’s no great surprise that by the end of that day, I was ready to turn English and get behind the Barmies instead.

To be fair, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise to anyone who knows me. I have been sending a card of encouragement to the English team ahead of each game since Adelaide in this series after all. I really want them to do well! (just not well enough to win!). Plus, having loved living in England myself from 1997 to 2005 and maintaining a strong affinity with the country of my ancestry, I’ll always have a soft spot for all things English.

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Day 3 seats panorama – yes they are a bunch of smurfs at left!

But never fear, after much better experiences on day 3 (row 4 from the turf, less square on, further from the obnoxious green and gold mess) and day 4 (upgrade to bronze, 1st bay next to sight screen, well away from the AA with the Barmies happily just the other side of the sight screen!) of the Boxing Day Test I can now happily spread my love uncomfortably across both teams again, and am even now planning a trip to the 2015 series in Blighty for more live Ashes experiences.

Watto hits the winning boundary to seal a 4-0 result!

Watto hits the winning boundary to seal a 4-0 result!

So the biggest lesson of my first Ashes experience? It’s well worth paying the upgrade price to get away from the yobbos in general reserve.

And more particularly as far away as possible from the Aussie Army! Then I can swing both ways as the mood takes me.

The MCG crowd goes wild after the win.

The MCG crowd goes wild after the win.