I know I committed a while ago to writing about my favourite places on this blog and it has been remiss of me to keep up this part of the blog.
I was asked today by one of my friends to name the places where I am most at ease. Bizarrely, my immediate thought was that I was most at ease on the cricket field when I was playing. That got me thinking about some of the places I had played the game and it made me realise that a cricket field, any cricket field, is one of my favourite places.
Cricket is a game that I revere: I have played it, coached it, umpired it, watched it, studied it and written at about and a cricket ground is the church as which I worship the game that I love.
When I was playing the game the first thing I did every time I got to a ground was take a walk around the boundary and take in the surrounds, then I would walk out to the pitch and get a sighter of the conditions. The smells of a cricket field were a comfort for me and relaxed me before crossing the boundary rope to play: the freshly cut grass, the white paint used to mark the creases and the mixed aroma of suncream, “deep heat” and Juicy Fruit all combined to make me feel like I was at home.
I was fortunate enough as a player to have the opportunity to travel up and down the coast of Queensland, through New South Wales and to New Zealand to play cricket and all of those aromas and sites were essentially the same. It would be fair to say that one of the great allures of cricket grounds for me and one of the reasons I was always at ease was that consistency.
I associate some of my fondest memories of childhood with time spent on cricket grounds. I remember fondly (among other memories):
- My first six at Ivor Marsden 2 in Ipswich off an off spin bowler called Doyle in Under 16’s (I was a late bloomer) and my dad yelling from the side line to “get my head down” … I got out next ball.
- Captaining the Booval Cricket Club Under 14s to victory in a final against the North’s team led by one of my best mates John Ruscoe on the old concrete pitch at Timothy Maloney Park in Ipswich.
- Taking 5 for 5 in a game in Toowoomba at the Downlands School as part of the Ipswich Grammar School under 16Bs and then spending two hours waiting for the bus to take us home to Ipswich because the game was over within the first hour.
- The first time I ever cramped up after playing a game of cricket in Cairns after opening the bowling for South East Queensland in an under 14 state title and having a laugh with my team mates when I had to be carried back to the team bus.
My favourite field to play on was the old Ipswich Grammar School No 1 Oval. I did not get to play there much as the season I was in grade 12; the confluence of a wet Queensland summer and a 1st XI coach who did not think I was any good (he may or may not have been correct) meant that I can only recall playing there twice but to this day I don’t believe I have played anywhere better. Surrounded by a white picket fence with turf nets and gardens at one end and over looked by one of the school’s two boarding towers and the music school with an amphitheatre of stairs on which viewers could sit I remember it being just the best place to play cricket I could think of. The grass was like carpet, the pitch was always true and you could sit right being the bowler’s arm and watch the play. I loved the joint and wish I had have played there more. I also loved sitting around and talking to the other guys in the team. It will not surprise that I was far from the most popular guy at school and it was only during those times watching, training and playing cricket on No 1 Oval that I felt like I was “part of the gang”.
Aside from the odd comeback here and there to play with mates, I have not played competitive organised cricket since I hurt my back as a 19 year old. I have compensated for that by becoming a vociferous watcher of the game. Be it an international game, a state game or a local club game I try to sit myself behind the bowlers arm and watch the play.
I have not missed the first day of the Brisbane test match since 1999 and if I have my way I will never miss one till I die. I often try to go to Queensland Bulls Sheffield Shield games on a Sunday and just watch the play for hours and if the stars align and I am in Ipswich on a Saturday I try to find out where my old club is playing and go along for a look.
To this day, the ‘Gabba is my favourite ground to watch cricket. It was my favourite ground back when the dog track still ran around it and it is my favourite ground now. I remember being on the hill when Carl Rackemann took the catch that won Queensland its first Sheffield Shield in 1995 (to this day my parents think I was at Uni) and I was there for Steve Harmison’s first ball to second slip in the 2006. There is no better place to watch cricket in my view that high in the stand at either end of the ground behind the bowler’s arm. I could, and have, sat there for hours just watching the game.
A cricket field, any cricket field, is one of my favourite places, not just because I love cricket but because at a cricket ground I feel completely at home. Now all I have to do is bide my time until September, for cricket season to start so I can get back to one of my favourite places.