16 June 2022

Canberra cricket emerging from the shadows after two decades

| Tim Gavel
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Cricket ball next to a cricket bat on green turf

Our national game has taken a great leap forward in the ACT over the past two decades. Photo: File.

Cricket in Canberra effectively fell off the cliff 22 years ago when the Comets were unceremoniously kicked out of the Mercantile Mutual Cup.

The team competed in the cup for three seasons, admittedly only winning a handful of games. But the side was given precious little time to develop.

Many reasons were given for the exclusion at the time, including financial viability and lack of player depth.

The argument about depth was laughable as rival jurisdictions plundered the ACT playing stocks as soon as the Comets’ demise was finalised.

There’s also a school of thought rival state associations felt threatened by the ACT’s ambitions to host Test matches and establish its own Sheffield Shield team.

Whatever the theory, male cricketers in the ACT headed elsewhere to ply their trade or stayed in Canberra playing in the futures league or national 2nd XI competition for the ACT/NSW Country Comets.

READ ALSO ACT puts its hand up for Fifth Ashes Test after Perth stripped of hosting rights

The ACT/NSW Country concept hasn’t been without its growing pains with concerns raised every now and again about the lack of Canberra representation.

The ACT Meteors have been the quiet achievers in the Women’s National Cricket League (WNCL), providing a host of players to Big Bash teams.

In many respects, the Meteors have shown how a stand-alone Canberra team in the national men’s competition can work.

Manuka Oval.

Prime Minister’s XI versus South Africa at Manuka Oval, 2018. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The base would eventually be there for Canberra men’s and women’s Big Bash teams.

Alongside the Meteors and the ACT/NSW Comets, there’s been a decreasing reliance on the Prime Minister’s XI fixture.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the PM’s XI was deemed to be one of the key fundraisers for ACT Cricket.

While the fixture remains significant and must be maintained, the emergence of an annual diet of first class and international cricket has taken the pressure off the PM’s XI as the only major game in town.

The Australian women's cricket team takes the field at Manuka Oval.

The Australian women’s team takes the field in the Ashes series at Manuka Oval on 28 January 2022. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images (Cricket ACT).

In 2019 Canberra hosted its first men’s Test when Australia played Sri Lanka, an event that appeared highly unlikely when the Comets were kicked out of the Mercantile Mutual Cup in 2000.

In 2021, due to COVID, Manuka Oval hosted 13 Big Bash games.

Earlier this year, Manuka also played host to an Ashes women’s Test.

READ ALSO Canberra’s first Women’s Ashes will be played on the shoulders of giants

And this October at Manuka, the Australian men’s team faces England in two T20 World Cup warm-up games followed in January 2023 by the all-conquering Australian women’s side playing Pakistan in two T20 internationals.

This steady program is set to continue with the ACT Government in negotiations with Cricket Australia for a further four-year partnership.

It appears ACT Cricket has emerged as a new stand-alone entity. It has taken more than two decades of hard work, but it’s starting to bear fruit.

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Whilst the progress is encouraging, there’s still so much more to achieve. Frankly, we deserve it.

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