When I landed in Australia I expected to find all the quintessential Aussie cliches – surfers, beaches and copious amounts of sunburn. However, I found that when I arrived in Sydney in mid-October, millions of Australians were absorbed by the new season of international cricket.
Being from Canada (the only Commonwealth country whose people think cricket is a noisy invertebrate) I vowed to understand this English game that the Australians have mastered and embraced. So I bought a ticket for the first One Day Cricket series that came to Sydney.
Before I went to the famed Sydney Cricket Ground all I knew about cricket was that it was lengthy and involved a lethal-looking bat and something called a wicket. The rules were alien and the players even more foreign, yet I entered the stadium excited to engage in this Australian pastime.
While Canadians enjoy sport, we usually associate a good night of athletics with ice skates and bloody brawls, not exactly a place to bring a hot date. I expected a cricket stadium to be filled with proper English gentlemen watching the game with partial interest while they updated their trust funds. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The cricket grounds were buzzing as the visiting team entered the field but the real applause began when the Australian players casually strolled out. The crowd didn’t just applaud but broke into numerous unintelligible chants while throwing profuse amounts of beer cups and confetti on the field. This atmosphere gave the game an aura of a major event that would decide the champion of the universe, rather than one game of a season filled with dozens more.
When I finally found my seat in the section of the stadium that was so high up that they required oxygen tanks, I settled in for eight to 10 hours of non-stop cricket excitement. As the crowd went ballistic, I found that the spectators around me were a United Nations of cultural influence.
There was certainly the regular regiment of boisterous Australians, but the ranks also included Indians, Sri Lankans, English, Irish and New Zealanders.
As this reality hit me I felt out of place and somehow very inadequate. Here I was losing my cricket virginity while all these experienced devotees of the game went about their cricket viewing business. I sat there for a few minutes with a puzzled look on my face before the Australian gentleman sitting next to me noticed my confusion and said, ‘You must be Canadian.’ I was astonished that he could pinpoint my nationality by just looking at me, but then I remembered I was wearing a T-shirt with ‘Canada’ written on it.
After feeling like an air-head for a few moments, I explained to him that I was new to this game and didn’t understand the rules of the sport. He told me he would be more than happy to explain the game and said he was always thrilled to meet an individual willing to learn the sport of cricket.
As the hours passed and I learned what a batsman, a bowler and an over was, I discovered that more and more people sitting around me contributed to my cricket education. Some noticed that I was not from a cricketing country and were overjoyed that I was willing to learn, while others were displaying old-fashioned Australian hospitality. As the game reached its half-way point it became obvious that I was a bit of an oddity in my little part of the stadium, and received several free beers and even an offer for a free place to stay while I was in Sydney.
When the game ended, I found I was a connoisseur of the sport and was able to talk on the same level with my new friends. As we left the cricket grounds, I realized that I had found the perfect place for the lone traveller to experience Australian culture while meeting natives and foreigners alike.
My cricket experience taught me to dive in head first with regard to the Australian lifestyle and that most Australians are grateful to display what they love about their country. Now that I’m a cricket lover, I think it’s time to finally re-introduce this game to the ice hockey arenas of Canada. ‘No doubt about it, eh!’