It’s not difficult to enjoy cricket on different levels. The rivalries between bowler and batsman, tactics, the part conditions play, statistics and decisions following a coin toss.
Our summers unfold against Jim Maxwell calls of Test matches, crowd sounds booming through our radios as we light barbecues and turn straight to the sports sections of our newspapers. I once enjoyed cricket as a player, a coach telling me the only time I used good footwork was when leaving the crease after being bowled out.
One of my rewards has been to enjoy this sport as a father.
My daughter was only two when I took her to her first Test match. I packed nappies, fruit, bottles, tissues and wipes, cramming them into a Thomas the Tank backpack. My wife glanced at me in that ‘you should know better’ way, assuring me that if our daughter didn’t last the afternoon she was prepared to come and collect her.
I speculated that the most exciting part of the day for her was likely to be the train trip. On that trip my daughter braced against the window streaked by last week’s rain, watching backyards and platforms rush past. We arrived at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in time for the last session.
Sri Lanka was playing Australia. As we arrived one of the Sri Lankan batsmen skied the ball and David Boon ran from slips to take the catch. The modest crowd applauded and from that moment my two year old was hooked.
At the time the MCG’s Southern Stand was under construction. You could look out where the old stand was demolished towards the railway line. It was said taking in that view was the closest we could come to experiencing how the ground used to be in its early days.
New plastic seats had been installed, replacing the old wooden rail seats that guaranteed a bad back and numb backside by the end of play. Many in the crowd chose to bang the new seats rather than clap. To my daughter’s frustration her tiny legs were unable to reach the seat in front to add to the noise.
The following year my friends joined us and she attended an entire day’s play. My friends were astounded as to how she not only lasted the entire day, but watched the game. Two rows down other kids climbed over their parents and had to be bribed to behave with bags of jelly snakes and chips. By the lunch adjournment their parents had given up and gone home.
We haven’t missed a Test in the 24 years since, although this year may well break a long tradition with Covid-19 threatening to consign us to the couch instead of our beloved southern stand. And that’s if there’s even a game. Through her years attending Brett Lee signed her hat, Bob Woolmer as Pakistan coach chatted to her, she saw Australia collapse against an Andrew Strauss led England for 98 runs and a Ricky Ponting double century.
There was also Shane Warne’s 700th wicket and a pitch that at times had less movement than bowling on floorboards. We have sat at Test matches at Headingley and Old Trafford along the way. And while my daughter started attending in nappies, all these years later she now goes to the bar, manoeuvring our beers through the crowd.
My second daughter hadn’t been walking long before she attended Victoria versus a Tom Moody led West Australia. It was when you could sit on the field, remaining behind the boundary rope. As I rummaged for biscuits she took off, stumping out past the boundary towards the gully position. In chasing her, I’m probably the last person to run onto the field without the $9000 plus fine being imposed.
The MCG is something of a monument to me. Much in the same way as the graceful canoe tree standing at the top of the hill in the MCG carpark, its unmistakable carving down one side left by the Aboriginal people who once lived so intimately close to this land.
The MCG has become a monument to growing up, the bond between father and daughter, of watching your children become wise and experiencing their friendship, laughter and conversation. Now we look forward to the centuries and falling of wickets in the years ahead. And of course, more of those conversations.