Summer in Australia

I just came across a lovely piece by Mark Lawrence about the outsiderness of living through Australian summers while knowing very little about cricket:

What [being a migrant] means is that I have very little understanding of the finer points of cricket, and don’t play it at all well. I can’t tell the difference between ‘long leg’ and ‘short leg’, and I have absolutely no idea where ‘mid-on’ is. After over a decade living in Australia, I do have an idea of how the game is played, but only a middling understanding of how it is scored or how a test proceeds. Strategy? Not a scratch. So much so that during the recent Ashes test in Adelaide, I had trouble keeping up with what was going on, while my colleagues could assess exactly how the day’s play had progressed and what the scores meant in an instant. I was left going, ‘What happened? What happened?’.

Of course, as he points out, there are lots of Australians who don’t give a damn about cricket, actively hate it even. Sadly many of them are friends of mine. At dinner last night as I was trying to talk with another cricket-loving friend about Shane Warne’s retirement, the rest of the table stuck their fingers in their ears and starting humming. It is to sigh.

But, yes, during an Australian summer cricket is everywhere. It’s the main headline on the sports page and quite often the front page too. You see it played on television (free-to-air and cable), on the various cricket grounds around the country, in parks, on beaches and in backyards. It’s played at all levels: from muck around family games where the stumps are an esky, through school competitions, grade and state levels, all the way up to international test series.

For me, even more than cicadas, the voices of Alan McGilvray, James Maxwell, Geoff Lawson and the rest of the ABC’s radio commentary team past and present has long been the sound of summer. Cricket discussions with my family, my (non-insane) friends, cab drivers, wait staff, people in queues for the bus are as much a part of summer as mangoes and passionfruit.

What will our side be without Shane Warne? Is Langer going to retire too? What about Hayden and Gilchrist? Is this the end of Australian cricket supremacy? How long before Murali takes Warne’s world record?

Lawrence worries that his cricket ignorance will affect his son’s progress in the game:

To an extent, my concern is whether my son will lack the necessary cricket skills, as I don’t want him to miss out on learning the game and being included in the matches that will invariably spring up at school, or at the beach or park with friends and family as the summer progresses.

But I recognise there is more to it: some of these concerns stem from my anxieties about what it means to be a migrant in Australia and, by extension, being an outsider. It is also an anxiety about whether I can truly prepare my son to be at home in Australian culture – to not be an outsider through no choice or fault of his own.

My father is the son of migrants from a non-cricket playing country (Poland/Ukraine) who knew nothing about the game and cared less. But he grew up loving and playing cricket and passed that love onto me and my sister. (As did my fourth or fifth generation Australian mother.) I grew up listening to, watching, talking about and (very) occasionally playing cricket in the backyard.

In my teens, inspired by the Bodyline mini-series, I started to read about the history of cricket. The first book I read was a very poorly written biography of Donald Bradman. The first book I enjoyed was Sid Barnes’ autobiography, which confirmed my admiration of Bradman the batsman and dislike for Bradman the man. I also discovered Keith Miller and fell in love.

The history of cricket is the history of English colonialism; they brought cricket with them wherever they went. In some place it died out: For my birthday this year Scott bought me two gorgeous American prints from the 1870s. One of them shows international cricket being played in New England. The other shows a game of baseball looking remarkably like a game of cricket.

In some places it did not: A quarter of the world’s population lives in cricket-playing nations. Just read C. L. R. James’ Beyond a Boundary on cricket in the West Indies and Ramachandra Guha’s Corner of a Foreign Field on cricket in India and Pakistan. They are not only extraordinary books on cricket, they are amongst the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, bringing the complexity of the game and its history alive. They are about race, class, caste, gender, nationhood, politics and colonialism, because it’s impossible to write a good book about cricket without touching on those issues.

The books of Gideon Haigh are also remarkable and have taught me a great deal about the history of cricket in my own country. And thus a great deal about Australia. You don’t have to like, or give a rat’s arse about cricket to be Australian. But knowing a little of the game’s history teaches you a little more about Australia’s. For example, our first team to tour England was Aboriginal, and yet the official Australian team has had almost no representatives of Aboriginal ancestory.

I didn’t start loving cricket because of its happy history of illuminating colonial relationships, but reading its history has made an already rich and complicated sport irresistably fascinating to me. There are few sports with as long and rich a history. And I can’t help but want to share that fascination with other people, Australian or not.

I hope that Mark Lawrence is curious enough to read some of those books. It is truly not necessary to know the difference between “long leg” and “short leg” to enjoy them (or cricket for that matter). Though if he does want to know there’s a rather helpful *cough* *cough* guide right here.


  1. jenny d on #

    i’ve got guha’s book on my shelf thanks to your recommendation, tho i’m not quite sure when i’ll get to it. i love “beyond a boundary” and am constantly recommending it to people, there is a moment when james quotes edmund burke that just makes me want to cry!

    this entry is making me very, very desirous of holding in my hands a copy of your cricket ya mangosteen fairy novel…. (i know that is the wrong order of words!)

  2. veejane on #

    One of them shows international cricket being played in New England. The other shows a game of baseball looking remarkably like a game of cricket.

    Have you ever seen rounders played? I am told that rounders is the missing link between cricket and baseball. (I’ve never seen rounders, but a Jamaican described it to me once.)

    The first known attestation of “base-ball” was 1791, in Pittsfield, MA. I love the idea that many different competing forms coexisted for almost two centuries before one of them gained cultural ascendance and the other died out.

  3. Rebecca on #

    have you ever watched lagaan? that is where i learned all that i know about cricket (not much). i wonder how accurate it is. i’m much better at kicking things than hitting things, though. no great american pastime for me. 😉

  4. da on #

    For example, our first team to tour England was Aboriginal, and yet the official Australian team has had almost no representatives of Aboriginal ancestory.

    Very few. Dizzy is the only one I can think of.

  5. jonathan on #

    did you read waugh’s bio? i was given a copy, but it’s sooooo big.

  6. Ben Payne on #

    I think cricket is way more complex than most sports… which is what puts a lot of people off… it appears “boring” because they don’t understand that someone bowling a ball and the batsman missing it can be an important and exciting thing;)

    I’m very curious about the future without Warne and McGrath too… we’ve done well without them in the past, but a number of other teams are playing really well at the moment… hopefully will make for some close and exciting matches.

    I think Warne will be tougher to replace… apart from the fact that he’s a cut above anyone else in the game, there aren’t a lot of contenders, once you get past MacGill, who is I think 36?

    But who’s next in line? Cullen? Hogg? Casson? White? I don’t see any obvious replacement.

    The McGrath issue has been partially solved by the success of Stuart Clark. I still think Gillespie could make a comeback too… again a similar style of bowler and he’s the same age as Clark.

    Personally, I reckon Hayden or Langer will be replaced in the next two years by someone younger, probably Jacques. Based on this series I’d pick Hayden to go and Langer to hang on a bit longer, but the next test series is a way off so anything could happen. Interestingly, while there are a heap of talented younger batsmen around, I can’t think of too many openers. We could even see Hussey move up the order.

    Another big blow, I think, will be the retirement of Gilchrist, which must be only a couple of years away, one would think…

    (thanks for the opportunity for a cricket-rant. I shall now go talk to the “norms” again!)

  7. Ez on #

    Do you happen to know Michael Holding is in the country? I don’t know if he’s been commentating lately, but ‘twould be terrific if he stopped by the ‘G on Boxing Day for a commentate.

    Have a lovely day! 🙂

  8. bo on #

    Who were those unfortunate dinner-associates who were so presumptuous as to think that (just maybe) Shane Warne was getting more than his fair share of commentary elsewhere? And yes you really need to see Lagaan my vote for greatest Bollywood cricket epic of all time. Oh, and thanks for another most excellent dinner the other night!

  9. cordelspo on #

    “Lagaan” lost out on an oscar to “No man’s land”(Bosnian: Ničija Zemlja) in the best foreign film category.

  10. Justine on #

    Jenny D: this entry is making me very, very desirous of holding in my hands a copy of your cricket ya mangosteen fairy novel…. (i know that is the wrong order of words!)

    Why, thank you! And not to worry the order of the words is pretty arbitrary as is the presence of any of those things in the novel.

    James: I keep meaning to get hold of a copy so I can see it again. I bet I can find a copy here at home.

    Veejane: I’ve even played rounders. I can see that it might’ve been part of the evolvement of baseball. But so is cricket. I’m fascinated why baseball historians are so hellbent on disowning the connection when it’s so obvious.

    Rebecca: I’ve missed seeing Lagaan any number of times now. I think I’m just going to buy the DVD. Everyone raves about its fabulousness.

    Da: He’s also the only one I can think of. I have no idea about the women’s team either.

    Jonathan: I have a copy which I plan to read soon. It is rather large.

    Ben Payne: It is one of those sports you have to grow up with or be really determined to learn about. Most of the people I know who say they can’t understand it aren’t into sport anyways. Scott learned to understand and love it as an adult, but he’s a natural sporthead.

    Warne isn’t replaceable, but there are a bunch of promsing young spinners. I’m not at all worried about the immediate future of our team. And maybe if there was a drop in standard from us, the rest of the world would have more of a chance to catch up?

    I think it’s unlikely Hayden and Langer will still be there a year from now.

    I’ll be sad to see Gilly go but it’s not going to be the same blow that losing Warne is. We’ve got a plenitude of fabulous batters waiting.

    You can rant about cricket here anytime.

    Ez: I did, indeed, know that Holding was in the country. He’s been interviewed a couple of times on channel 9. What a fabulous bowler he was! What a wonderful commentator he is now.

    Bo: Was a lovely dinner, wasn’t it?

  11. genevieve on #

    Warne is incredible, as is the wonderful technology that allows us to see the magic he wreaks with that seam.
    Thanks for the references to good cricket reading, Justine – I would love to read that book on the Indian/Pakistani scene. And I’m glad I’m not the only person who wonders where our indigenous players are. There must be a grim tale of privilege and racism in that somewhere. That aside, I am forever grateful for growing up in a cricket mad family. There is something very restful about it – I have a daughter who only really stops working when she watches the Test.

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