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NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 134

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Is there anything more disappointing than a soggy pie?

No, there’s not. The expectation of firm pastry and the meaty joy within was instantly ruined. No sooner in his seat and having slid his pie from its bag, it collapsed in our eldest’s lap like a Home and Away extra during a Summer Bay disaster.

Our members’ tickets are in Bay 134, at the bottom of the Fos Williams Stand, and about six rows from the fence. At about backward point it’s a top spot.

With noise and music and fireworks and the ceaselessly moronic countdown our innings begins courtesy of the hoopla-free off-spin of Johan Botha. He played for the Strikers and the Redbacks but is now with the Sixers. Every confected cricket event needs a villain, and Botha swishes his black cape for the crowd.

The civilised world’s favourite sporting Hodge opens briskly, as does his partner Jake Weatherald. We progress at a goodly clip, and when Dunk comes in he takes seventeen from one over of former wig salesman and current outlaw-bikie impersonator, Doug Bollinger.

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Is it possible to drown the week between Christmas and New Year’s with too much cricket, both televisual and backyard? With Alex and Max receiving a cricket set and some Zing bails, we’ve gone close.

Balls have lobbed over the northern, eastern and southern fences and into the neighbours’ like F- bombs in a Tarantino flick. Our house is on the western side of the modest backyard and balls: tennis, rubber and various assorted have cascaded down into the gutter like stones across a holiday-camp lake.

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Brad Hodge (at 42, the competition’s second oldest Brad) holes out, and to the wicket sprints Travis Head, hero of last year’s corresponding fixture. But his lean tournament continues and he’s rapidly back in the sheds.

Looking like a participant in a slo-mo beer advertisement is Jake Lehmann and he then takes careful block and three balls later is bowled for zero. Perhaps next time they should strap a set of pads to his moustache and just send it out for a slog.

When his stumps are disturbed and the bails flash and dance, the hoardings and screens light up with animated Zooper Doopers and I’m suddenly aggrieved for the great loss of 2016. Bowie? Cohen? Prince? Bah. Hang your head for the demise of the great summery ice-treat, the Sunnyboy.

I know the between-balls musical stabs are highly orchestrated, like elevator muzak and shopping centre soundtracks, but tonight’s seems improved with Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances,” and The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy.” A highlight is “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, although for me and many of my generation the iconic version of this 1959 classic is by Otis Day and the Knights, as performed during the toga party scene in Animal House.

The sun sets beyond the Chappell Stand and the Strikers go to sleep before Pollard and Jordan rescue the situation with some controlled bludgeoning. It’s a beautiful batting deck and I reckon we’re about twenty runs short. For the Sixers Sean Abbott is impressive taking a Michelle.

*

Human creativity is eternally astonishing, and our boys find limitless ways to argue on the backyard pitch. A couple times this last week some cricket has even broken out between them. Mates who’ve brothers tell me it’s common.

Over Christmas lunch I ask Mum about my childhood cricket. “You’d come home from primary school and play every afternoon with Brett.” Brett was two years older and lived down the road. “Did we argue?” I ventured. “Like cats and dogs,” Mum replied, “You never stopped.” I was instantly reassured. I was normal.

During the break, there’s a win $500 if you take a catch competition for those caught on camera with a KFC bucket on their bonce. It’s criminally inadequate compensation. However, the security guard/ cult hero from the Strikers’ first home game joins in, and with his final attempt completes a nice overhead grab. It’s no John Dyson on the SCG fence in 1982, but still, it’s tidily done. We loves it. If KFC was available at Adelaide Oval I’d buy thirty-eight pieces, inhale them and wipe the grease through the hair of my loved ones.

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Hughes and Roy (Surrey import, not Slaven) get the visitors away brightly, but then the wickets fall regularly. Lanky Queenslander Billy Stanlake bowls with pace and penetration taking three, including that of Brad Haddin, who in stomping on his stumps, appears to have taken his midnight cups prematurely.

Test discard Maddinson arrives and departs limply. His year concludes bleakly, but with national selection logic proving impenetrable his two from eight deliveries may be sufficient to earn him a recall or a position on Turnbull’s front bench.

With O’Connor and Laughlin operating in tandem the Strikers are attacking with Anglicized forms of Gaelic, and this is effective as they snare four collectively. “Jump Around” by House of Pain, everyone’s beloved Irish hip hop collective (if LA’s a Belfast suburb) blasts out and O’Connor takes a sharp return catch from Abbott to make it seven for not-nearly-enough.

When the wickets aren’t tumbling, the bowling is so economical there’s more dots than a Morse Code Festival (email me for details). Like octogenarian Port Power fans clapping every single fecking disposal the crowd now applauds each maiden delivery. Our boys are really excited.

Sixer Sam Billings swots a couple into the western stand named for benefactor and KFC-devotee, Sir Edwin Thomas Smith, but with his departure the required run-rate accelerates like Zimbabwean inflation and the game is over.

Doug doesn’t even get to face.

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A few years’ ago, during the Boxing Day Test our eldest began shrieking from the lounge. “Dad. Dad! Come quick!” I burst in. What was happening? What had I missed? “What is it?” Alex looked up at me, his toddler’s eyes wide. “Dad, Peter Siddle’s about to bowl!” Ah, the enthusiasms of the child. Not many could get excited by that.

Not even Mrs. Siddle.

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In our car, we venture home and into the new year.

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The following is fantastic. Voiced by Richie Benaud it captures what we love about cricket and summer.

 

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NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 127

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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.

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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.

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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.

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