Almanac Cricket: A hot, sweaty tri-series & Canberra’s summer of cricket.

I open my laptop to my analysis screen and the ground is empty.


It’s been a difficult summer here in Canberra. Smoke from the South Coast and ACT bushfires have, at times, given Canberra the worst air quality in the world. It is hot. Scorching hot. The sort of heat which sucks your breath out, and pounds your face. When it hasn’t been hot, there has been hail – destroying buildings, writing off vehicles. The one constant is the smoke, casting an eerie shadow over the city…


It’s been a tough summer here at Manuka Oval. High up in the air-conditioned comfort of the media centre, you can see the unprecedented destruction of the season. Smoke lingers over the hills in the distance, a stark reminder of the bushfire emergency occurring in Canberra’s outer suburbs. A freak hailstorm that hit Canberra two weeks ago stripped the trees around the grounds of their leaves, their tall elongated branches adding to the miasma of grey that seems to cover the arena.


It’s been a difficult summer for cricket here in Canberra too. Poor attendances, lack of big-ticket matches and the infamous “smoke-out” are in contrast to the stunning success of their maiden test match last year. Canberra and its ground feel overlooked and undervalued.


Manuka Oval is a tired ground. In contrast to the sleek new media centre glistening at the Canberra Avenue end, its stands feel old and run-down. It seems outdated compared to its bigger rivals in the major states. Yet, this quaint ground situated a stone’s throw from Parliament House maintains a certain charm, only reserved for smaller, more intimate venues. The old Jack Fingleton scoreboard rests on the hill, a beautiful relic of both the MCG’s and cricket’s past. The stands are small and close to the action, providing a fantastic atmosphere; if only they were filled. The stunning views of Telstra Tower and Mt Ainslie make it one of the most scenic grounds in Australia.


I feel optimistic for this tri-series. It’s a mouth-watering contest, arguably the three best women’s teams in the world battling in out over three days. Tri-series are rare these days, replaced by the Big Bash, traditional ODI series and a greater focus on tournaments. It’s an ode to my childhood, when I would watch the men’s team play these series after the test series until I went back to school. Now the men’s team play ODI’s in India during the prime of the summer behind a paywall and in an unfriendly timezone.


I am filled with nostalgia and excitement for these contests.


Once again, Canberra struggles to put on a show. For the first two matches, it is scorching hot. Sweat sticks to my shirt, covering my forehead in tiny drops – and this is just the five-minute walk from my car to my desk. An Indian batsman cramps during her innings, whilst the over rate is slow and painful as the players struggle in the heat. Attendances are small, especially for the England-India game, however, over the weekend they gradually pick up.


I am responsible for the electronic scoring of the matches here at Manuka. It’s my dream job, a room away from the ABC grandstand commentary booth, and running into cricket commentators in the corridors. I am based in the media centre, which is air-conditioned, cold and pollution-free! Media personalities do their make-up, cameramen scurry about holding various forms of equipment, making their last-minute preparations for the game. Sipping on my ice-cold water in the 19-degree room, I almost forget about the imposing 40-degree heat outside, the fierce sun radiating down onto the players’ warm-ups.


The cricket lived up to expectations. The English captain Heather Knight was imperious at the crease, striking two career-high scores over both days. Aggressive and not afraid to hit over the infield, Knight was outstanding in securing the Super Over victory against Australia, leading by example to guide her side. For the Aussies, it was a mixed bag. A masterful performance by ICC player of the year Ellyse Perry with both bat and ball lead Australia to an unconvincing win over India. A steady hand with the bat and a dynamic wicket-taker with the ball, Perry’s importance for Australia’s T20 world cup chances cannot be overstated. For the Indians, their batting depth remains a worry, but two strong bowling performances especially by their spinners, offer promise heading into the next set of games in Melbourne next weekend.


Canberra needs to rethink the way it approaches cricket. Should it accept its current place as a small fry cricket venue, one that hosts the occasional international and the diminishing PM XI’s game? Or should it think bigger, upgrade Manuka into a modern-day boutique venue and put itself in the conversation for more test matches?


As Australia wraps up victory in the final match, I realize how lucky I am. In an air-conditioned room, being paid to watch the game that I love and indeed watch some genuinely impressive cricket.


I shut my laptop screen, stare across the empty stands, and wait in anticipation for the next innings.





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