Late December 31, 2014 we watched Thunderball in our St Mary at Hill hotel room by the Thames. Outside, in the brisk, cider-drenched London night several million folk pressed onto the riverbanks to enjoy the fireworks while we slept. Twelve months on, having taken our boys to Europe, seen some more of Asia, and farewelled Singapore, we’re back in flat, kindly, unhurried Glenelg.
Tonight contrasts with the previous NYE: it’s hot, we’re in a public place, and we’re more likely to see Troy Bond than 007. We’re at Adelaide Oval. It’s the first time our boys have been to a cricket game of any sort.
I’m not sure why our local Twenty20 franchise is called the Strikers. Is Adelaide a particular focus for industrial discontent? If so, then what would The Don think? Would the Piping Shrikers be better?
We’re up against the Sydney Sixers, and I can’t uncover any deep etymology concerning their name either. To paraphrase Butch Coolidge from Pulp Fiction: “We’re an Australian cricket franchise. Our names don’t mean s**t.” Others under consideration were the Sydney Edge and the Sydney Rocks. I’m trying to locate meaning or symbolism where there is none. I need to adjust my headset.
We’re with some dear old friends in Bay 127 at the bottom of the Riverside Stand, so-named because it’s adjacent to the Torrens Lake.
This contemporary form of our game has many critics who suggest it cheapens the skills, offers no narrative arc, and is shamelessly disposable. But I prefer to celebrate the unique situation of there being three distinct versions of our sport. I’m not sure they’re cannibalising each other.
Whilst it’s now only an oval in name my memories dart about the towering arena like friendly, swooping phantasms: the astonishing Day 5 victory in the 2006 Ashes, Mark Waugh’s century on debut, and Australia’s one-run defeat when Curtly Ambrose dismissed Craig McDermott in 1993.
I hope tonight becomes the first in a lifelong succession of cricketing reminiscences for our boys.
Juggling the obligatory clappers, pirate hats, battery-powered sunglasses, Kentucky-fried poultry buckets, four and six cardboard signs we take our seats. I doubt this event will be carbon neutral. Following various drills, the Strikers warm up with a few dobs of the Sherrin, and I’m surprised that the Glenn McGrath tripping on a footy at Edgbaston in the 2005 Ashes catastrophe still hasn’t resulted in a Cricket Australia ban. Dizzy should lock the footy in his cupboard.
Since arriving we’d been blitzed by hip-hop music, pyrotechnics, peppy dance crews and other hyperventilating stimuli, and when the Sixers’ innings finally commences, I like that it’s with the placid spin of Travis Head. This is an old-fashioned island in an ocean of now, and I exhale. Three hours later Head would conclude the contest in superbly volcanic style.
Michael Lumb and Ed Cowan use the field restrictions well, and accumulate runs steadily. An early wicket seems as remote as former PMs Rudd and Gillard eloping. Alex Ross takes a great catch at deep extra cover which is reminiscent of Glenn McGrath’s 2002 classic against England. Nic Maddison strides to the wicket, but completes a sharpish U-turn courtesy of a golden duck.
Every delivery is punctuated with a stab of music ranging from “YMCA” to The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy.” Fortunately, we passed peak- “Eye of the Tiger” a few years back, and are spared. But the administrators might soon realise that our spectator experience is deficient in olfactory spurs, and install clandestine devices which at frequent market-researched points release perfumes called “Sweaty Protector,” “Freshly Mown Outfield” or, for the ladies, “Joe the Cameraman.”
Jon Holland comes on from the Cathedral end, and I’m terrified to check his player profile in case his nickname isn’t Dutchy. Adil Rashid bowls well in taking three wickets, and we stifle the Sixers’ scoring during the middle period of the innings before superannuant Brad Haddin hits out productively at the finish.
During the break I focus on the wonderful old scoreboard, and the Sixers’ team. I then amuse myself by constructing various adult-themed, 1960’s-styled sentences using the names Bird, Silk and Bollinger. I’d mentally written half a Carry On movie/ Warney biography when our eldest and I are sent to refill the water bottles.
We make our way to the Gary McIntosh Bar, where, hideously, the line for free water is longer than the queues for beer. As if this weren’t sufficiently cruel, we miss the Strikers’ opening two overs in which Craig Simmons and Tim Ludeman get us away smartly. A crowd highlight is former Redback skipper Johan Botha gifting us four overthrows off own bowling from a delinquent return to the keeper.
Strikers captain Brad Hodge and Travis Head now come together. They’re circumspect, like a Cup jockey not going too early. Doug Bollinger’s bowling is more Cold Duck but still economical, and like Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, the run-rate is climbing.
At the fifteenth over, they push the button. The chase is on. Sean Abbott takes a great catch at mid-wicket to dismiss Hodge, in the best public display of 2015 by any Abbott (onion-eating aside).
Alex Ross departs, and suddenly the run-rate is a call-the-fire-brigade seventeen. Rashid comes in with the Strikers requiring fifty-four. He faces a solitary delivery for two runs. Head then creates his narrative, a thrilling narrative which is action flick, boys’ own adventure and bed-time story.
As he clubbed the Sixers to and over the fence it became quickly clear that we were seeing something folkloric. Such was his energetic precision that each shot travelled exactly where he wished, as if guided by military software. There was a happy inevitability in the fluency with which he struck Abbott for three successive sixes, the last of which not only won the match, but also brought up his century, while closing the cricketing year.
He’d scored fifty runs in ten minutes. It was blistering punk-rock, but delivered with an elegance that Lords denizen Sir Mick Jagger would have appreciated.
Our boys smiled and waved their cardboard six signs and jumped up and down in their Bay 127 seats. They’d seen something remarkable, something rare.
I reckon they’d just had their first cricket memory.