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6th November, 2021

It’s been so long I can’t remember the sound of cricket.

That crack of bat on ball. The collective ‘ooh!’ from the crowd. The noise of an appeal. The sound of an umpire calling, “Over!”. It all feels so long ago it seems to stretch back to that five not out I scored decades ago.

But now I’m making my way past the scarred tree outside the MCG and under the fluttering elms. Since my last walk here I’ve watched AFL only on television. It was so impersonal that even the scarves didn’t come out.

I’m tentative about attending the first day of Victoria versus New South Wales. Our COVID infection rate remains high in Melbourne. I have to say, however, it’s partly cricket that guided me through lockdown. England versus New Zealand, New Zealand versus India, England versus India – they all gave me oxygen during our endless time at home. Test matches on late-night television were my intensive care.

Returning to a live cricket match is an expression of hope. Normal life is edging back. Triumphs and disappointments of centuries, dropped catches, unplayable yorkers, technically perfect straight drives, all mixed in with the mystery of unpredictable bounce – cricket has returned.

MCG generic

(Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

And there are so many delicious subplots to welcome me back.

Will James Pattinson bowl with the ferocity of Melbourne’s recent destructive winds as a message to selectors he may feel didn’t choose him enough?


Can Marcus Harris push his claims for Test selection? Two Indian tours ago I admired his poise at the crease as time after time he appeared to be on his way to a strong score before being out, often when the hard work was done – something he and Travis Head could work on together.

Trent Copeland is off the field with injury. Sean Abbott is hitting a good length. And Harris is out – I can only imagine how despondent he feels.

The crowd is about 200 but building. Why not more? A look at the Victorian scoreboard showcases names like Nic Maddison, Peter Handscomb, Scott Boland, James Pattinson, Marcus Harris and Jon Holland, a line-up deserving a bigger audience. Plus Nathan Lyon, playing for New South Wales, is alone worth the price for admission.

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In the emptiness of the MCG I’m reminded of its enormity and how sound travels so differently when the vast stands are vacant. I hear every snick and even Peter Hanscomb’s grunt as he drives at the ball.

There are hardly any kids here. Their education was seriously interrupted by lockdown, and instead of being here they are all in classrooms. Their generation must wait for parents and grandparents to sit with them, explaining the nuances of the game. Between overs I recall a visit here when we were allowed to sit behind a boundary rope and my daughter, still in nappies, took off onto the field. The West Australian fielders enjoyed the moment, even if I didn’t. Life is what happens at the cricket.


Drinks break, Victoria 1-31.

It’s almost odd watching sport that’s not on a television screen. Coming here everything is suddenly made real, as though it had been two-dimensial up til now. Plus we watch drinks carried out instead of an ad break. Someone jogs laps instead of our being told everything is ‘Shaq-ing easy’. Someone in the crowd spills their chips.

Abbott continues to look menacing. Wonderful ball to Hanscomb. The umpire’s finger goes up.

It occurs to me how much has changed. There are no tour matches by England this year due to COVID precautions. Warm-up games will be played between the tourists and a Lions side travelling with them. Perhaps tour matches, once so interesting in providing intrigue and anticipation, will disappear entirely. When New Zealand last toured there were none prior to the first Test, although one was arranged when New Zealand lost that Test heavily. Senior players from both teams will need to adjust from T20 demands to the longer form of the game.

A warm sun makes a cameo appearance. When I first arrived there was confusion at the gate, with staff explaining we needed a ticket but that they couldn’t be purchased at the ground. Seeing my dismay, a man offers to buy me a ticket online and then refuses my offer of cash. “I’m just glad to be here,” he tells me. It occurs to me later it was a continuation of the kindness many offered during lockdown. Now the cricket continues to somehow unite us.

James Seymour scores his century with Maddison not far behind. Seymour’s family a few rows in front of me leap up and embrace.


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