11 April 2023

The gloves are off: cricket’s revolution in Canberra continues

| Tim Gavel
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three people standing at a cricket oval

Tom Vane-Tempest, Stuart Karppinen and Zoe Cooke. Photo: Tim Gavel.

When Tom Vane-Tempest made his debut for the ACT/NSW Country team in 2016 against South Australia at Manuka, he took to the crease with test veteran Brad Haddin and piled on a century partnership.

It is an experience Tom will never forget and effectively set the template for everything that has followed in his career since.

It motivated him to continue travelling back and forth from Canberra to Sydney each weekend in summer to play for St George rather than ply his trade in the ACT.

The enticement of playing alongside or against players in the test squad or fighting to get back into the Australian squad is hard to ignore.

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The ACT’s status in men’s cricket took a bit of a battering after the Comets were kicked out of the one-day Mercantile Mutual Cup in 2000 for reasons that, to this very day, remain a riddle.

Since then, the ACT has struggled for relevance in men’s cricket. For the past seven seasons, they have been in a partnership (of sorts) with NSW Country in the Australian Second XI competition.

Thankfully, that is all about to change with the ACT to compete as a stand-alone entity in the Second XI series.

The hope is that it will build the ACT competition to a level where players don’t see the need to travel to Sydney to play in a stronger league.

“I think it’s super exciting for cricketers in Canberra as they’ll be given the opportunity to represent the ACT,” says Tom Vane-Tempest.

Tom believes it’s a significant step for the ACT as they develop their own identity.

It would appear that, at last, there is a definitive pathway for young male cricketers in the ACT.

The aspirations of new Cricket ACT chair Greg Boorer are far higher with a desire to have the Territory represented in every major competition in Australian cricket, including the Sheffield Shield.

But the ACT reclaiming its own identity is an incredibly positive first step.

Cricket match under lights at Manuka Oval.

Cricket in the ACT is moving forward in both the men’s and women’s games. Photo: Michael Weaver

This narrative is endorsed by former Comets and WA first-class player Stuart Karppinen, who is now the Head of Cricket in the ACT.

“It is one of the stepping stones,” he said.

“Last year, we had the Australian Age Championships and the ACT competed in the men’s and women’s. What that provides now with the Second XI and the Women’s National Cricket League is that there is a pathway for young players in Canberra. They can get into elite cricket and they don’t have to leave.”

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For the next couple of years, players such as Tom Vane-Tempest will be eligible to play for the Comets despite playing in the Sydney grade competition.

But this exemption will be gradually phased out.

While the men have battled to get a place in major Australian competitions, it has been a totally different story for women cricketers in Canberra with the Meteors already in the top-shelf national league.

two female cricketers in uniform

Katie Mack and Holly Ferling of the ACT Meteors. Photo: Dalice Trost.

The lot for women cricketers in Canberra is about to improve dramatically in the wake of the new MOU agreed to by Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association.

The five-year agreement will see the Meteors players, who will compete in 12 games in the WNCL, receive $60,000 each, including superannuation.

The payments increase significantly if individuals also play in the Women’s Big Bash and if they represent Australia.

The Meteors squad will be increased from 14 to 16. The new deal also includes parental leave and more time for training.

Most of the current players have employment or study outside sport. There is optimism that cricket will become full-time for women.

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Veteran ACT all-rounder Zoe Cooke said it’s a major development for women’s cricket in Canberra.

“It means we will get to train more, and there will be more time and effort into cricket. Hopefully, for us, it means more money in the game. No more part-time jobs outside cricket and we get to move to full-time work in cricket,” she said.

“It’s obviously a great motivation to know that you can make a living out of cricket now. A lot of young girls coming through our 16s and 19s now see that there is a pathway. It’s a great step forward.”

There is optimism that the significant lift in salary and improvement in conditions for women will lead to players staying in the game longer.

Slowly but surely, cricket in the ACT, with little fanfare, has become a leader in professional women’s sport.

The ACT men, it would appear, have also taken a major step towards the goal of being a home for first-class cricket.

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