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May 14, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Boxing Day Test Match

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What’s better than a Boxing Day backyard cricket match?

There is something very nostalgic about backyard cricket. I remember Christmases where the garbage bins were pulled in for wickets and a few drunk mums and dads faced up to spin bowls from their eager kids.

I remember my mum trying to run without the flap lifting on her batik wrap-around skirt which she’d decided, on that day, was a strapless dress. There is nothing more satisfying than catching your dad – not with another mum – but when he chips it off the bat and gets caught behind.

I remember the tantrums from the kids when they got bowled out, the consensus that they should be given another turn; but maybe not to the following year. By then they had learnt to be more gracious losers.

For the past five years we’ve put the call out in our neighbourhood to play a Boxing Day match on our local cricket pitch. Some people we really only see once a year at our game. Some people I have never met. Others I know so well they call me Mum.

This year we had record numbers – with 50 people turning up. That’s a lot of bodies to work through. Kids, teenagers, young adults, hot chicks, mums, dads, grandmas, and grandpas. They were all in attendance. All ready for the captain’s pick. Which I might add is an unpleasant experience that relives the team-picking trauma of school years – where we were made to stand while we were selected one at a time. Or more’s the point, not selected until the very end. Who doesn’t remember being left until last? That sinking feeling that while groups are selected, you’re the last one standing?

As someone tasked with doing the selecting, I should add it’s not personal; it’s about whether the person doing the selecting can remember your name. 

The great thing about cricket is that if you win the toss and chose to bat, you get to drink. There’s not many competitive sports that allow the opposition a lazy sit down. It’s part of the festive appeal. Recovery time.

Anyway, if you do have to field it means you just stand around hoping the ball doesn’t come to you. Only the bowler and the wicket keeper have anything to do. 

Two of the kids that showed up this year were in their cricket gear, they played the year before and their parents said they enjoyed it so much they were up at 6am dressed and waiting for the evening match. It’s hard not to love that. It reminds you how important intergenerational community engagement is for kids.

How important it is, as adults, to get your ass off the grass and get amongst it!

The other great thing about cricket is that it’s forgiving of lack of competence, and if you do have a little competence, you can shine like a hero. A massive whack or a catch of the day makes you a hero for a moment. Cricket also means we all get a chance to watch people we know run. Most people I know don’t run. We’re not runny people. That’s probably the most fun of all. People look so funny when they run. Myself included. Bits jiggling, boobs flying. And that was just the sprint to the esky for the last beer.

Although there were a few adults who clearly had some serious smashing skills on the bat, at the end of the day the kids outperformed everyone. And of course it was a draw. 25 wickets for 45 runs. No one stayed in for longer than five minutes! 

I am not a cricket fan, but I do love a little bat and ball on boxing day. This cacophony of ungifted players and crude adaptation of the sport has this remarkable ability of bringing people of all ages and skill levels together to do something that we often forget to do as a community. Engage. Something that’s not really about winning or achieving, not about commerce; something that’s just about fun. And it’s free. 

Maybe next year you’ll start a game in your neighbourhood? Or maybe you’ll be at ours. Here’s a tip – wear a nametag.

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  1. Today at Christmas at the back of the dunes on the beach where there is a hard wet patch that we could have for a pitch combined with three bits of wood we could use for a wicket, there is something indeed very international about backyard cricket.
    There are Indians, island backpackers, Chinese, Yugoslavs, Aborigines and even some with a plum in their mouth as they are very, very British.
    “I say man, hold the bat straight, play a straight bat like Prince Charles at Timbertop, man”
    At the other end was a tall nuggety boy with the ball all scruffy flipping it into the air and on his face was a grimace like a bison. He called himself Typhoon Tyson. He got the name somewhere out of the old pommie past … and he said with the ball he was fast.

  2. Mandy Nolan is clever at revealing the true nature of individuals, towns’ traditions and cricket.
    Hooray for friendly inclusive cricket matches. Australian born, I live in Sonoma County in California and have tried to get the buttoned up humorless locals to try cricket; especially at public schools whose football players selections are ruining lives, budgets, and making sure that skinny shy students are worthless.
    Professional status for angry men snarling and fighting and mobs yelling deafening insults have nothing to do with sportsmanship. Not every student gets chosen to play football, that has become more warlike/rowdy/noisy and displays terrible lack of sportsmanship. I love soccer and amateur basketball–here anyway. Hooray for cricket! And Hooray for the Echo for having Mandy write about the game that keeps us sane
    Love and Happy New Year PS I lived with my mum in Paddington, which changed into trendy villages and communities. During WWll we were living with blackened windows and sirens and wardens.

  3. Hi Mandy,
    A fun article.
    Is it true that you are having a crack at running for a seat in the Federal Election ?
    If so which Party are you joining, or will you run as an independent?
    Cheers, Happy New Year.


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