Two small boys in our house are asleep on their feet this morning after staying up an hour past their bedtime to see Adam Voges hit 50 runs off 29 balls in his final international appearance during last night’s Prime Minister’s XI match under lights at Manuka Oval.
It was a warm, clear evening, with the sunset and bright lights against the night sky the perfect backdrop for the T20 game.
The kids loved the fiery blasts around the ground each time one of our batsmen hit a six, the foot-tapping music between overs, and spectacle of fast run-scoring playing out in the centre, but we took them home at the end of the first innings. They were already bleary-eyed and today will be a struggle.
When we bought the tickets, we contacted the parents of our son’s cricket team-mates to see whether they would join us. Four children, four families. All passed. They were too polite to say they felt it was too late at night for 7-year-olds to be out and about, but they were right, it was.
I knew it, too, but I have so many childhood memories of chasing the likes of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh, Dennis Lilley, Greg Matthews, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Joel Garner and Gus Logie for autographs with my father at Manuka or my grandfather at the SCG as a child. I want my sons to feel those same waves of nostalgia when they look back on early cricket experiences.
Cricket Australia, Cricket ACT and the office of the Prime Minister need to put their heads together and come up with a more family friendly timeslot for the annual Prime Minister’s XI match.
The four families we approached weren’t the only ones who stayed away. There were empty seats throughout the ground. The official crowd figure was 7,120, and seated capacity is 13,550, so it wasn’t my imagination that the ground felt half empty.
If it was because families were concerned about drunken louts sitting near them, they needn’t have been. There were two designated areas of alcohol-free seating. It was very pleasant in the area we found ourselves sharing with several Sri Lankan families.
Other commentators have argued that crowds will come with bigger name players (two of the more high profile players, former one day international captain George Bailey and Australian fast bowler James Pattinson had to withdraw in the lead-up to the match due to injury), or a scheduling change to a date earlier in the season.
Certainly, if the match was held during school holidays, families would be more likely to embrace it even at the late starting time, but for my part, I reckon the organisers could boost crowd figures by making one simple decision, to start the match at a more family-friendly time.
With so little international cricket on offer in the national capital, the sport has few opportunities to inspire our youngsters to develop a passion for seeing games live.
Seeing elite players perform at the highest level is one surefire way to inspire children to play the game themselves, too.
Our Oval is one of the finest in the country, so good that we’ll be hosting Test cricket in 2018-19. We have one of the most respected curators around (and the most committed – insiders tell us Bradley van Damm worked from 1am till after the end of play during the last one day international at Manuka). Let’s encourage as many families to appreciate all of that as we can by making it as accessible as possible.
By the way, those who stayed till the end last night saw Sri Lanka win the match by 5 wickets (with 17 balls remaining), a result that would have pleased the visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister and his entourage in the Bradman stand. The PNG contingent were a happy bunch, too, with their side having defeated the ACT XI by three runs in the curtain raiser.
Pictured above are the sunset over Manuka Oval last night, some of the action during the PM’s XI’s innings, the lights sparkling after nightfall and the Oval’s curator, Bradley van Damm, enjoying the atmosphere in his ‘office’. Photos: Charlotte Harper