Almanac Humanitarian Life: Highlights in the history of international sport – Australia v India


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When a team of Australian septic tank installers played the central Rajasthan School First XI (or so)


In 2014 a motley but lovable crew of South Australian and New South Welsh volunteers headed to India as part of the international Habitat for Humanity program, to provide some support to the locals for home building and sewerage upgrades in a small village in Rajasthan. The State is in the north west region of India, and is statistically one of the poorest regions in the world. The area includes the Thar Desert, and the landscape and climate are eerily similar to much of Australia – eucalypts and searing blue skies, and sadly familiar stories of worsening drought conditions and political paralysis.


One of our projects was to fund and source materials to help build a couple of deep stone-lined pits which could be used as simple but effective septic waste systems by the villagers. The existing toilet site (aka a country long drop) was 200 metres away in the open fields. The elder women of the village had been lobbying to have somewhere closer to their homes, as the younger women were often hassled by the boys in the fields at night.  A spot was chosen on a slope surrounded by a few houses – with a serene view across the dry paddocks, and overseen by wild peacocks.  As we were measuring it out, one of the young fellas pointed out that we should keep it a little away from grandma – I assumed he meant grandma’s house, but no the raised ridge that we had been walking around was where recently-passed-on grandma was being safely kept, until she could be transferred to the river cremation site for a formal farewell as soon as it could be arranged.  We paid our respects to grandma and moved our site a little further away. It seemed lovely that she might be aware of the project, and I’m sure she would have approved.  I spoke to grandma quite often during the day as we toiled away – excellent company, along with the inquisitive cow that kept heading into the ever-deepening pit and having to be rescued.


The elder women of the village mostly kept their faces covered, and always kept their distance from us – but a glance would say it all. At the end of the project, one of the elder women came to me as we were saying our goodbyes, took my hand and nodded tearfully.  Nothing needed to be said.  Older women know stuff – and share a universal language, because the issues are universal. My lovely neighbour John recently said at one of our fence-sits that elder women need to take over, or the planet’s stuffed – no pressure then.



Morning pre-school entertainment before the day’s work begins



How deep is a hole ? Inspection underway.



The girls hanging out.



The Principal of the village school proposed that a cricket match be organised at the end of our stay, between the project team and the school’s cricket team – we of course accepted the challenge (and gulped hard).  This could become an embarrassing international incident, as we would probably be thrashed.  We were very aware of the importance of not undermining the authority of the leaders in the community, which (unfortunately) meant respecting that the girls at the school could not participate in the game.  We decided however that the women in our project team certainly would, as a very small example of embracing what sport has to offer – and for the girls’ future reference.  (I wonder whether they are now allowed more freedom to play, given the dollars available in the new IPLW – it will be very interesting to see how the growth of national women’s cricket filters down to rural village level.)


We had bought a couple of decent cricket sets in the crazy but marvellous market streets of Old Delhi, which we planned to leave with the school after the game.


The school quadrangle became the ‘oval’, and a pitch drawn up. The school set up two adjacent seated areas at the side of the ‘arena’ for the VIPs and cheer squads (India and Australia), festooned with team placards, paraphernalia, and flags.  Friendly but serious rivalry at its best.  When the bell went for the game to begin, the students (a hundred or so) all appeared from their classrooms into the quadrangle and climbed onto the roofs of the buildings, anywhere to get a look at these visitors they had warmly befriended, and who played the great game that both countries had inherited from our English colonisers.


It was tight – we weren’t surprised that the young players were very capable and obviously loved the game.  One of our team, Deb R (a fierce competitor in all things) and Dennis the Postie put on an early display of big hitting, but we lost a couple of quick wickets to some excellent catches by the upper outfield (i.e. the kids on the roof), and a couple of balls disappearing into the cow paddocks (and cow pats) adjacent.  I went in to bat at number 5 and tried to look at least familiar with the stance. I was quietly confident in my defensive technique having faced my big brother’s quicks in the backyard in my younger days – and I was representing my country after all.  A slender and handsome young chap moved to the bowling end and ran in a couple of steps to bowl.  At the crease, he stopped, bent down, and slowly rolled the ball along the ground, where it came to a quiet and ignominious stop at my feet.  Silence fell across the arena.  He looked at me, smiled broadly and said (very politely) … “that’s for Greg Chappell”.  The crowd erupted with cheers and laughter, and so did we. Bloody Chappell G has a lot to answer for. This young boy of 15 in a remote village in India knew that story (that infamy!) as one of the life lessons he had inherited at his grandfather’s knee, along with the family history and the stories of the village’s Hindu gods (of which there were many – as the Hindus say, why have one god when you can have a thousand).  In my defence, I scored a few runs before being comprehensively stumped.  I can’t remember the final score but needless to say, India won – or as they say, the winner was cricket, and international goodwill (and good fun).



Scott S rolls the arm over at a critical juncture in the innings. Howzat ?



We quietly left the cricket gear with the female prefect students – which they secreted away to their rooms.  Maybe they were allowed to keep the gear.  Maybe they are now playing for India.  Maybe they’ll take over and run the world.  Can’t do any worse…and grandma would be delighted.



You can read more from Verity Sanders Here.



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  1. Loved this yarn, Verity.
    Sounds like it was a great time all round.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Outstanding story.

    Greg Chappell!!! ha ha ha. .Brilliant.

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