For many years the PM’s XI was virtually the only chance for Canberrans to witness first-class cricket without having to travel.
A number of PM’s matches have created unforgettable experiences for fans and career-making opportunities for players alike. Here’s another to add to Cricket ACT’s list of memorable matches: imagine being at the game where Sir Donald Bradman came out of retirement in 1962-63 to play against England (sadly, he was out for 4 and put the bat away forever).
My first game as a commentator was in 1988, and after a huge pre-game build-up, the match against the West Indies was abandoned without a ball being bowled because of rain. For some time there was a theory that if ever we needed rain in Canberra all that was required was for the stumps to be thumped into the Manuka wicket for a PM’s XI game.
It is very much a celebration of cricket with a number of international careers launched through a good performance in the PM’s game. It was also an opportunity for a promising local player to put themselves in front of potential suitors.
The game itself shone like a beacon on the Canberra sporting calendar. There is a sense of theatre as the Parliament House press gallery, assigned to cover every move made by the Prime Minister, descend on Manuka Oval en masse hoping for some exclusive story.
Despite a significant history stemming back to the Menzies era in 1951, the game has struggled for significance in recent years.
There is some speculation about its future, not only because of a crowded international cricket schedule making leading players unavailable but also because Canberra now hosts a number of first-class cricket matches.
These matches involve both the men’s and women’s domestic and national teams following significant investment by the ACT Government to secure first-class cricket for Manuka Oval.
Part of the problem relates to the difficulty of establishing a permanent timeframe for the fixture because of the crammed international schedule.
The move towards a T20-style format for the PM’s XI game could attract a younger audience, as well as those who simply love cricket.
This year, five players with international experience will be part of the PM’s team to play Sri Lanka ahead of Sri Lanka’s three T20 games, so the PM’s match is significant.
To develop the occasion into something more than the game itself could help to build an audience and promote the PM’s XI to a larger, new population. It needs to be an event. In England, there are numerous cricket festivals where activity around the game takes on significance equal to that of the game itself.
And the PM’s XI has such a rich heritage, it should be celebrated.
To this end, Cricket ACT has done a great job in re-establishing the importance of the match. A festival approach has been promoted, without diminishing the importance of the game. This involves interactions between the players and fans in a way that has proven so successful in the Big Bash.
There is strong evidence that this approach works in Canberra.
A recent example was the marketing and atmosphere for the Asian Cup soccer at Canberra Stadium where it became an event in itself. The result was a game which will last for many years in the memory of many of the spectators.
There is no reason why the PM’s XI can’t be identified as Australia’s version of the English Cricket Festival on the village green of Manuka Oval.
It is a special event that is unique in Australian cricket and as such deserves our support.