Australia’s dominant religion: cricket

When I was growing up in England, cricket had a much greater presence in the consciousness of the general public. As I recall, football and cricket were held in relatively equal thrall and were largely confined to their seasons of summer and winter, only overlapping for a few weeks at either end. Indeed, some players even played both games – Ian Botham included.

Since then, the behemoth that is football has sucked up nearly all the media attention in England such that, outside of the Ashes and the world cup, cricket has become very much the poor relation in the nation’s sporting line-up.

So it was with interest and trepidation (for I don’t really understand the rules fully) that I took my boys to join a group of friends for day two of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Panoramic view of the interior of the MCG.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground or MCG, where Aussie cricket lovers come to worship the game.

I have to say that when it comes to test cricket, I have tended to lean towards the American view of the game – “You can play for five days and still end up with a draw?” – but that is to belie the intrinsic civilised beauty of cricket; that it has its roots in an era when a five-day pastime was perfectly acceptable. In a world of extended working days and instant availability, the notion of a game that pauses for morning and afternoon tea, as well as lunch, is to be cherished rather than mocked.

If cricket is Australia’s religion, then the Boxing Day Test is its midnight mass. Families talk about coming year after year, of serving their 15-20 year wait to become members of the MCG, and of how the test is as much a part of an Aussie Christmas as prawns and presents.

A group of people firing up as gas barbecue in the MCG car park.

The epitome of the Aussie cricket experience, taking a barbecue to the game and firing it up in the car park.

Outside, there was a tented village of child-friendly entertainment where kids could practice bowling, try a diving catch before landing on an inflatable mat, have their photo taken with the cricket world cup, get free sunglasses and soft cricket balls, and sign up for more information from local teams the Melbourne Renegade and the Melbourne Stars.

A child in front of an inflatable bowling net.

Mini-CBRbound tests out his new-found bowling technique.

Inside, we were lucky in that we chose to attend with friends with a passion for the game, and on the day when Steve Smith posted a cracking innings of 192, barrelling Australia along to an innings total of 530. This was enough to keep my cricketing new initiates interested, as was the spectacular setting of the MCG itself.

It caused me to ponder what has been lost in England, where the swifter gratification of football has subsumed, usurped and marginalised its more genteel cousin. If that hadn’t happened, what would its place now be in the consciousness of the nation and its children – other than ‘that blip’ when there is no football.

A view over the heads of the crowd.

Australia v India at the MCG.

Perhaps the fact that cricket in Australia is so closely tied to the traditions of Christmas has helped its position, or perhaps Aussies just love the game more and more widely than has been the case in England for the past 30 years.

Either way, my boys loved it and have been playing garden cricket ever since. It seems ironic to me that, had they grown up in England, they would probably never have learnt to play what I consider to be this most English of games.

As for the match, well, you can probably guess what happened. They played for five days and ended up with a draw.

One thought on “Australia’s dominant religion: cricket

  1. LOL, love your last line.

    This post fascinated me. I just assumed that cricket was loved as fiercely in England as here. In Australia it has often been said that more people know the name of the Test Cricket Team Captain than of the Prime Minister. Not sure if that’s really true but the Cricket Captain is seen as one of the major achievements in Australian society (for better or worse!). I spent several years as scorer for my son’s cricket team – they provide some of the happiest memories of his childhood for me. I loved the boys. His team was not a top team but they loved their game. They’d get out quickly, and then the very next game they’d be talking again of hitting a six, only to be out quickly again. Such joy and enthusiasm and support for each other.


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