With the conclusion of the Sheffield Shield and the Victorian Premier Cricket season last weekend, the Australian summer of cricket officially came to a close. The summer that almost never was, ultimately became a testament to a nation’s whole cricketing community.
Cricket Australia released figures on Monday, that in excess of 170,000 matches were played in season 20/21. From the grassroots, where juniors strapped on the pads for the first time, to first-timers in the Baggy Green, the all-encompassing figure is a resounding success for a sport that must have feared whether there would be a season at all.
(A monumental achievement - 170,000 matches of cricket right around the country)
Staggered though the start might have been, by late November, club and professional cricket was played, as Billy Birmingham would have it, “from Bondi in the East, across to Bunbury in the West.” That said, COVID-era cricket would look slightly different; players would break not for drinks but to sanitise, and the traditional luncheon interval – the shared spread with all the trimmings – was a thing of the past. Minor changes notwithstanding, at its core the cricket remained the same.
In a professional setting, the summer started at AB Field, as Australia’s most loved team retained the Rose Bowl against New-Zealand. A truly complete performance, Australia’s Women rode a wave of momentum right through to breaking the record for 22-consecutive ODI victories (a streak that after their most recent tour to New-Zealand has extended to a mammoth 24). International duties complete, attention turned to the WBBBL – the extra B is for Bubble (duh). Yet another successful iteration, the Thunder were champions and Alyssa Healy’s 111 from just 52 balls the innings of the tournament; mercifully bubble restrictions did not apply to the white Kookaburra.
As the men got underway, Steve Smith eclipsed many a club cricketer’s season tally in his first two hits of the summer; a pair of 104’s against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Crowds gradually returned and gave due appreciation for the masterclass before them. These crowds were aware, of course, that the best was yet to come – the white ball set to give way to white clothes; Australia playing #1 ranked India in a four Test summer. Keen to right the wrongs of 2018/19’s ‘asterixed’ loss to their Indian rivals, well, they couldn’t. Rahane and his rag tag bunch of replacement players rallied to knock the home side from their perch, securing yet another unforgettable series victory.
(What a treat it was to have the best in the world in action throughout the summer)
The BBL came and went, all 61 matches of it. Again, the Sixers were champions, and the tournament delivered as it always does, a healthy dose of cult heroes; Peter anyone? Does the tournament itself need a power surge of its own? Perhaps. But as casual viewing during the Christmas and New Year period, it remained accessible and entertaining.
Of course, professional sport is one thing. It has continued across most of the world, thanks to the aforementioned bubbles, athlete’s preparedness to quarantine and its (merciful) qualification as ‘essential.’ The real mark of success for cricket in Australia in season 20/21, is that its amateur participants have been able to enjoy it in full.
As wickets were rolled, creases marked and boundary cones set out on grounds across the country, we had some sense that everything would be OK. In a year where so much had been out of our control, putting our faith in the hands of an umpire 22-yards away seemed to be of little consequence; until of course it was. The beauty of club and community cricket, of course, is the unity and camaraderie it provides its participants; social distance is anathema in a cricket change room and it was truly special that Australian cricketers were amongst the first worldwide to be afforded the chance to enjoy – and share – that prized winning feeling again.
So, happily, summer had its soundtrack. 774 Grandstand on the radio waves for the pros, and the comforting crack of leather on willow at grounds around the country for the rest of us. Thousands were granted the chance to fall in love with the game for the first time, thousands more continued a love affair with it. Cricket Australia and indeed cricket in Australia can be very proud of what they achieved all together this summer.
May they never have to do it again.
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