In Moore Park, with the light towers of the Sydney Cricket Ground behind them, dozens of flannelled fools are acting out the age old traditions of social cricket.
It’s been years since I rolled the arm over or strapped on the pads, and I never reached great heights in the sport (a 65-run innings in Melbourne’s South Suburban Churches, grade 1 matting comp, was the pinnacle of my achievement). But I do enjoy watching it from time to time.
The standard of park cricket is not top class – if I want to see the professionals in action I can turn on the TV pretty much any hour of day or night during Australia’s summer months and catch India v England, the Ryobi Cup one-dayer at the WACA in Perth or the all-important showdown between New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
But on any Saturday in Sydney can I wander down to the park and see mortals, some not much more talented than my younger self, giving of their best.
I like the reassuring rituals of the park game; the placing of the yellow witches’ hats to mark the boundary, the uniformed umpire tending the bowler’s end while the batting team supplies a casually dressed square leg official, the calls of ‘Bowler’s name?’ from the scorers as a new leather-flinger marks out his run-up, the drinks breaks under the fig trees, the next man in padded up and patting back a couple of throw-downs tossed by the twelfth man.
There is seldom rivetting tension in the game and any passion among the players is concealed. A dismissal is greeted with a perfunctory, ‘Well batted, Benjo. He doing anything?’ ‘Nah mate, bit of leg spin but you can easy pick his wrong’un.’
The glacial pace at which a cricket match moves allows casual spectators time to stroll along to see how the game is going on the adjoining field. When play gets dull in a test match, radio commentators fill in time by remarking on the seagulls settling on the ground. In the park last Saturday a pair of spectacular channel-billed cuckoos, harassed by squawking mynahs, alighted in the fig tree above us.
They’d migrated from Papua New Guinea to see real summer in real Australia.