Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club

Beneath the trees I see a rickety wooden stand, and a row of old couches.

Pumping music floods across the lush outfield. It’s jazz/techno/funk/fusion with an accompanying saxophonist. He’s slight, sporting a pork pie hat and dwarfed by black speakers on tall tripods. Previously living next door, he returns annually to provide the soundtrack. It’s the strangest broadcast I’ve heard at a cricket match.

After a while my ears and eyes accept these peculiarly arranged nuptials and welcome the enhanced festivity.

Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club is underway.

Thirty-odd women (the hyphen’s crucial here) are at six long tables on the long off boundary, affably ignoring the sporting action. Now, does Ladies Day carry a possessive apostrophe? Do they own it or is this adjectival? Which better illustrates their experience? My fear is that the women do most of the work for their own day, but then I’m assured the males began preparations in the kitchen around dawn.

Along with its pocket-sized community the oval’s nestled in an attractive valley at the confluence of Bull Creek and Finniss River. It’s just up from the church and the Greenman Inn. We’re between Strathalbyn and Willunga, and the Mount Lofty Ranges sits right there to our immediate west.

At the 2016 census this hamlet recorded a population of 261 yet fields two senior teams and a junior side. Adelaide Oval’s soil was originally sourced in Ashbourne, and further elevates the celebrated status of the club.

The cricket itself is almost apologetic with looping deliveries, batting which prods towards the cherry rather than bludgeons it and fielding that’s a tragi-comic mix of purposeful and accidental. The infield appears impenetrably spongy. It’s like underwater cricket. The scoring shots seem to be sixes and lofted fours but even these are like fluky pitching wedges from high handicappers. Instead of a Kookaburra they could be using foam bats and a nerf ball.

Just up from the lone saxophonist there’s an outdoor bar so I ask the chap in charge, ‘What’s the score?’

Fishing about in an esky he replies, ‘Langhorne Creek is 7/70 after 35 overs.’

‘40 overs a side? You shouldn’t have many to chase down.’

He laughs. ‘It’s B grade cricket. No guarantees.’

Indeed. I was in a Kapunda side that was rolled for about 35 against Riverton. But they only got the runs with nine down. Fonz, a team-mate in Kimba, played in a country carnival team that was knocked over for two.

By contrast I later learn that in October 1954 Ashbourne icon H.R. Meyer took 6/65 against Langhorne Creek.

He was 69 years old.

A late-innings six is skied into the foxy mid-wicket scrub and melancholy minutes follow. The musician continues, as U2 sang, to ‘breathe’ into his saxophone. Brows are furrowed and the fielders stomp about in the undergrowth. At the Ladies Day tables much wine is downed, obliviously, before the ball is hoiked back at the wicket, finally.

Lunch is then served with a handful of deliveries remaining in the visitors’ innings and the amassed ladies begin to file towards the clubrooms. I hope they enjoy their chicken and (tossed) salad.

Suddenly, a midwicket slog at us under the trees. The barman (and likely OHS&W officer) yells, ‘Watch out!’ But I can’t see for the canopy. The ladies remaining put their hands over their glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and not their heads in an impulsive display of their true personal priorities. On the rope a fielder snatches at the ball. He turfs it. Blokes behind the bar shake their capped bonces, with one suggesting he has the ‘best hands in the club.’ The ball dribbles over the boundary.

Ladies Day and the resident saxophonist continue. I know none of the players, spectators, or officials but there’s been rejuvenation in seeing their shared enterprise, even for twenty wistful and nostalgic minutes.

We hop in the car. We’ve a winery appointment.

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