If you read my earlier entry about cricket in Australia, you're likely champing at the bit, wondering where you can see this high-scoring sport close to home.
In the month of January, your best opportunity is while seated on your sofa. NBC Sports Network (channel 317/1317 on Cox Tulsa cable) is airing one KFC Big Bash League game every week through the end of the season, plus the semifinal and final matches. This is TV-friendly Twenty20 cricket -- twenty overs per side, with an overall three-hour time limit. Teams are penalized if they fail to complete their bowling innings within 90 minutes; the Brisbane team faces the suspension of their team captain for going five minutes over. The Brisbane-Perth match, which aired live at 2:30 am this morning, will be rebroadcast Thursday, January 12, 2017, at 11:00 am Tulsa time. It's a very different fan experience, too: In contrast to the empty stands for the Sheffield Shield matches I watched, the Gabba was sold out for this match, which featured flashy scoreboard graphics, music between overs, and a swimming pool overlooking the pitch.
But when our weather warms up, there will be an opportunity to see live and local cricket. Two Tulsa clubs, the Greater Tulsa Cricket Club and the Green Country Cricket Club, participate in the Two-State Cricket League (TSCL), along with five clubs based in Wichita, three in Oklahoma City, and one each in Lawton, Stillwater (associated with OSU), and Salina, Kansas. Gauging from the names on the roster, it appears that one of Tulsa's two clubs is predominantly Indian and the other Pakistani. Both teams play at Ute Park, south of Jackson Elementary School at Ute St. and N. Pittsburg Ave. (A well-tended wicket shows up clearly on satellite photos.) The 2017 schedule is not yet posted, but last year's list of fixtures indicates that they play 35-over cricket from early April until October and Twenty20 cricket in October.
As I learn more details, I'll keep you posted.
NOTE: The fifth day of the third test match between Australia and Pakistan began at 5:30 pm Tulsa time, Friday, January 6, 2017. You can listen online (free with registration) or watch the ball-by-ball description (no registration required) here. Australia finished its second and final innings late yesterday with a 464 run lead. Pakistan must either catch up to win (very difficult), or manage to keep batting until the end of the day for a draw (possible). UPDATE: Australia managed to get all 10 wickets within 80 overs, giving up only 244 runs. That's only three more runs than Australia gained for two wickets. Only one Pakistani batsman managed more than 50 runs. Final total: Australia 779, Pakistan 559.
NBC Sports Network (Cox Tulsa channels 317/1317) is airing ten KFC Big Bash League games this season, including semifinals and finals later this month. The next opportunity to watch is the Brisbane Heat vs. the Perth Scorchers, on January 11, 2017, 2:30 am Tulsa time, with a rebroadcast on January 12 at 11 am Tulsa time.
Imagine a variant on baseball:
- Instead of scoring a run when you pass home plate, you score a run every time you reach a base.
- Instead of four bases, there are only two.
- Instead of the base consisting of a square pad you have to step on to be safe, there's a line you have to cross.
- There's always one batter and one runner on first.
- The pitcher pitches six balls from first base to home plate. Then home plate becomes first base and vice versa, the batter becomes the runner and vice versa, and a different pitcher pitches six balls in the opposite direction from the previous 6.
- "Pitcher" is a misnomer. He can best to bounce and spin the ball off of the ground. Let's call him a bowler instead.
- There's no such thing as a foul ball.
- If you hit the ball, you don't have to run, if you don't think you have time to run to the other base before the ball comes back.
- Instead of standing beside home plate, the batter stands in front of a thing that looks like three croquet stakes next to each other, with two little wooden tops resting on top of them.
- Getting out involves someone catching a batted ball on the fly; a fielder hitting the croquet stake things with a ball, hard enough to knock the wooden top things off, while runners are between the lines; the bowler hitting the croquet stake/wooden top assembly with the ball, or the bowler hitting the batter's leg with the ball if the ball would otherwise have hit the croquet stake/wooden top things.
- Instead of an outfield wall, there's a rope, at least 225 feet from the batter. Hit a ball over it on the fly, you score six runs. Hit it over on the ground, you score four runs.
- If you hit a double or a home run, you get to keep batting, at least until it's time for the bowling to change direction.
- One team keeps batting until 10 of their 11 batters are out. That's an innings. Each team gets two inningses.
- You play for six hours a day, stopping a couple of times for lunch and snacks, for four or five days.
- No pinch hitters, no pinch runners, no substitutions (except for illness or injury).
- And if both sides haven't finished their inningses by the scheduled end of the game, it's a tie, no matter how big the lead.
This, then, is cricket.
I was delighted to hear that there would be a Sheffield Shield match at the Brisbane Cricket Ground while I was in town, and my schedule would allow me time to take in some of the match. Sheffield Shield is the name of the annual double-round-robin competition between state teams, and this four-day match would pit the Queensland Bulls against the New South Wales Blues. Better yet, there was no fee for admission, so I could watch as much as I had time for without feeling I'd wasted money on a ticket.
Sheffield Shield is just one level down from international competition (aka Test cricket), but levels of play aren't mutually exclusive the way they are in American baseball. A Shield team is more like a statewide all-star squad, and the team that competes in international tests is like the Olympic team. Steve Smith, captain for Australia, also captains the NSW Blues and plays for the Rising Pune Supergiants in the Indian Premier League. Other international players also play in Australia's Big Bash League, a shorter form of cricket. Smith was batting while I was there, and the Blues and Bulls combined included at least a half-dozen players that are also on the national team: Dave Warner, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon.
The state teams and national team each have a panel of selectors who pick which players will take the field for the next match. After a string of losses, the selectors take as much heat, if not more, than the players. After Australia lost the first two test matches in a series of three against South Africa last month, the chairman of selectors resigned. A revamped board of selectors called up some new players, based on their performances in this season's Sheffield Shield, and the recharged Aussies managed to win the third and final test against South Africa, a series of one-day internationals against New Zealand, and the first test against Pakistan. Currently Australia is ranked second among the 10 nations that play test cricket, trailing India; the two teams will meet in a four-match series in India in February and March.
I said the match was held at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, but if you were to ask a local for directions using that name, you'd likely get a blank stare. At five syllables, that name, while technically accurate, is way too long for an Aussie to trouble himself to speak it in full. Locally, the stadium is known as The Gabba, which is short for Woolloongabba, the Brisbane district in which it's located.
There has been a cricket ground at the site of The Gabba since 1895, but the current 42,000-seat stadium is the product of a staged redevelopment from 1993 to 2005 that replaced historic grandstands and buildings with a round stadium, the sort of thing that American cities built in the US in the 1970s to house both baseball and football teams (e.g. Busch Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Riverfront Stadium). I heard a cricket commentator on the radio refer to the redeveloped Gabba as "soulless." It certainly lacks any sense of history.
Before the redevelopment, there was a grassy berm known as "The Hill" where rowdier fans could let loose, and kids could run and play:
The Gabba hill was a place where you could stretch out, relax, drink full strength beer, watch some cricket, or even have a sleep late in the day if you needed it. And for those seated in the stands, when the game out in the middle was meandering along, you could always rely on the hill to provide some entertainment....
I remember sitting on the hill at the Gabba while my grandpop drank tallies and us kids played with an old bat and tennis ball.
The oval fits in between two major streets, but the stadium stands were a little too big. Rather than reroute the streets, the upper-levels of the stands overhang them.
On this October day in 2016, only one gate was open for the match. A stadium staffer handed me a roster of players and directed me to the handful of sections that were available. The ground-floor concourse looked the same as a US multipurpose stadium, except for the off-track betting parlor. A single concession stand offered soft drinks, hot dogs, chips (fries, that is), low-point beer, and mixed drinks. (They have pre-mixed cans of Bundaberg rum or Jack Daniels or Jim Beam and cola, diluted to 4.6-5.0% ABV, just a little stronger than 3.2 ABW beer.) Some sections were marked as no-alcohol zones.
Perhaps 200 fans were scattered around the open sections. The sky was cloudless. Qantas and Virgin Australia jets zoomed overhead on final approach to Brisbane airport several miles north.
The quiet was striking. No announcer on the PA system. No music between overs. Just conversation, interrupted by the crack of bat on ball and applause when someone hit for four or for six. The crowd rewarded a century -- a batsman reaching 100 runs -- with sustained applause and a standing ovation, even if it was a batter for the opposing team. Once in a great while, there'd be a cry of "howzat!" from the fielding team (the traditional way to appeal to the umpires to call a batter out), followed by a groan from the crowd in reaction to the umpire's decision. Over three separate visits to the stadium, I heard young tourists speaking French, middle-aged men discussing buying a television, train journeys, and the new female clerk at the 7-Eleven, a noisy, vulgar heckler (who was escorted out), and long-time cricket fans actually discussing the players and action on the field.
The scoreboards on either side of the stadium displayed the rosters for each team with batting and bowling stats for the current innings.
Cricket is a challenging sport for spectators. The closest seat in the stadium is nearly as far from the wicket (about 250 feet) as a Fenway Park bleacher seat is from home plate (just over 300 feet). With few exceptions, plays don't develop over time but are almost instantaneous: A ball is bowled, the batter strikes, the ball is caught or stopped, all in a matter of seconds. Unless you have very keen eyes, you're dependent on the reaction of the fielders, a signal from the umpires, or a change on the scoreboard to know what just happened. Watching on TV, where the cameras can zoom in on the action, and where you can watch instant replays and hear play-by-play commentary, makes the action easier to follow. The exceptions are boundaries, particularly when there's a chase to see if a fielder can stop the ball before it crosses the rope; and run-outs, when the batters are trying to stretch a hit into as many runs as possible -- a fielder throws the ball at the wicket to knock off the bails while the runner is between the lines.
The biggest challenge to drawing a crowd is the sheer length of the games. Unless you're retired, you just don't have time to watch a match that runs for six hours per day over four or five days. Cricket organizations have tried to adjust to modern tastes by playing day-night cricket, starting at 1 pm instead of 10 am, pushing the final session into the evening, under the lights (with a pink ball that's easier to see), and by offering shorter forms, like one-day internationals, where each team is limited to 50 overs (300 balls), or Twenty20 cricket, in which the limit is 20 overs (120 balls) a side, a game that can be finished in roughly three hours, the length of a longish baseball game. The KFC Big Bash League plays Twenty20 cricket in eight cities, one in each state capital plus a second team each for Melbourne and Sydney. Last year, the Brisbane Heat drew 29,353 fans on average, despite a 6th place finish. This past Tuesday, a match against the Sydney Sixers brought 32,371 fans through the turnstiles.
Compare that to 26,343 for the first day of the first test against Pakistan at the Gabba last month. As the match continued, attendance declined and then plummeted: 23,344 on day 2, 20,915 on day 3, 4,890 on day 4, and 2,593 on the final day. Australia had finished batting on day 3, and rain shortened day 4, but Pakistan finished strong and came close to catching up, only to be all-out early on day 5, when bad weather threatened again.
But long-time cricket fans worry that short-form cricket, which is becoming the norm for school matches, is ruining players for the traditional game. Twenty20 cricket puts a premium on swinging for the fences at every opportunity. In traditional cricket, patient shot selection is key to staying at bat and running up the score. If you hit twelve balls in a row on the ground and never budge from the crease, that's OK -- you've defended your wicket.
Traditional cricket adds more strategy to the game: The weather forecast, bowler fatigue, the changing condition of the ball and the pitch, the effect of sunlight, shadow, and stadium lights, the time remaining, all play into the captain's decisions about whether to bat or defend, when to "declare" (end an innings early, before 10 wickets have fallen), and whether to require a follow-on (a team leading by 200 or more runs after the first innings can require the trailing team to hit first in the second innings, increasing the likelihood that the match will be completed in the allotted time, avoiding a draw, and possibly avoiding the need to bat a second time).
The three formats for cricket are different enough that separate statistics are kept for each, even though many players participate in all three. Sheffield Shield matches are classified alongside Test matches, as they only differ in running four days instead of five.
I became fascinated enough with the sport that I returned to the Gabba for a later day of this match (stopping in to watch a few overs while my laundry was drying in a nearby laundromat) and again with my family a month later, to see Queensland against South Australia. I watched New Zealand wrap up its successful home series against Pakistan on TV and enjoyed listening to the Australia-New Zealand series of One-Day Internationals on the radio, as Mitchell Starc, a solid bowler and batsman, knocked one six after another. At the moment, I have to settle for listening to the Pakistan test series online, via cricket.com.au.
A series of encounters led to an opportunity to appear on 612 ABC Brisbane (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's locally focused station) to talk about the aftermath of the U. S. presidential election.
In late October, I was walking in the Spring Hill neighborhood north of the Brisbane CBD, looking for an affordable alternative to the hotel's unaffordable laundry service. I came across two young men standing on a street corner with a small metal easel sign identifying one of them as Trevor Evans, the Member of Federal Parliament for Brisbane, who was holding a "mobile office" -- making himself available to any of his constituents who might want to bend his ear. I stopped and introduced myself, and we talked about the recent Australian elections, the looming US election, and the excitement I'd witnessed at Prime Minister's Question Time in Canberra the previous week. As the conversation wound down, I asked Mr. Evans if he knew where Brisbanites interested in American politics might gather to watch the returns. He had heard something about a gathering at the Norman Hotel -- thought it was being sponsored by AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia -- but he'd be in Canberra on the day.
It wasn't AmCham -- I called, and they knew nothing about it -- but it took me until the day of the event to find out that the sponsor was the Australian American Association. The deadline had passed a week earlier. A phone call went to voice mail, but someone responded to a Facebook message and said come ahead.
As the results started to roll in, a 612 ABC reporter doing a live report from the party wanted comments from a Republican and a Democrat, so I volunteered. The Democrat was a woman who had moved to Australia 20 years or so previously but still voted back in the US. The reporter asked if Trump's apparent win was the last gasp of the white conservative Christian male.
A couple of days later, one of the AAA leaders phoned to say 612 ABC had contacted him in search of a Republican to participate in a studio discussion about the election. I was interested, so he connected me with Sunday morning host Rebecca Levingston, who filled me in on the topics she wanted to discuss. Rebecca told me that her go-to Republican had moved to Perth, and she likes to have guests in studio for these discussions.
Sunday morning I strolled across the Victoria Bridge to the 612 ABC studios in South Bank. Rebecca was at her desk in the bullpen, prepping for the show, and she showed me to the green room, where I was joined a few minutes later by my Democrat counterpart, Peter Axelrod, an aviation attorney originally from New York by way of San Francisco, who had settled in Brisbane about 15 years ago, and his wife, a native Aussie. We had a nice chat, and I was surprised to learn how small the general aviation sector is in Australia, given the vast distances that have to be covered. (This is a country where your doctor may make house calls by plane, and you might talk to your school teacher over the radio.) Regulation holds back the industry.
(Somewhat related: I met some Americans at the hotel who were private pilots and would be touring Australia by air -- this sort of thing. They had to do a checkride on their first day in country to qualify for the trip.)
We were led into the studio by the producer. Peter had come prepared with an article from NPR and some other material, which he had sent to Rebecca ahead of time, and which he let me look over. (It reminded me of the way I used to show up to my weekly slot on KFAQ with pages of background material.) Here's Peter and Rebecca in the studio:
Rebecca was a very gracious host, who asked intelligent questions and was fair and balanced. If she had a political leaning, it wasn't apparent.
The conversation began with Rebecca asking for our reaction to the results. I said that I was relieved that Hillary Clinton would not be president, but apprehensive that Trump will be president. We also discussed prospective appointments (Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani were still possibilities in that first week after the election), presidential power and checks and balances on those powers, filibusters, Obamacare, the electoral college, election turnout, the National Popular Vote proposal, and the need for reform of the nominating process. The final section of the conversation was about the prospects for Trump's promises.
My favorite moment was using a cricket analogy to explain the electoral college and getting a laugh and a complement from Rebecca. The context: South Africa had beaten Australia in the first match of a three-match test series by 177 runs, the latest failure in a long string of Australian losses in international cricket. But if Australia would win the remaining two matches by one run each, they'd win the series, even though their run total would still be 175 less than South Africa's. That's because the series is won by winning a majority of matches, not by getting the highest run total. If the winning criteria were different, you'd use different strategy. (As it happened, Australia lost the second match, too, failing to score as many runs in two innings as South Africa managed in one. After a massive overhaul of the lineup, Australia won the third test handily by seven wickets.)
Here's the whole segment, which runs about 20 minutes.
612 ABC Brisbane was my preferred listening when driving around town or on excursions around southeast Queensland. I appreciated the conversational approach -- where guests had time to develop ideas -- and the variety of serious and silly topics. As I find them online, I hope to share some of the segments that I found particularly interesting.
You can listen to 612 ABC Brisbane on their website or via various apps. ABC Radio has an archive of interviews and conversations on Soundcloud, as does 612 ABC Brisbane.
My other favorite radio station was 1296 4RPH -- Reading for the Print Handicapped. Most of the station's schedule consists of volunteers reading articles from the local and national newspapers and a variety of magazines and books. The articles are often long-form essays, including political analysis, book reviews, and arts criticism. It was real food for thought while driving or taking care of routine tasks. They also carry BBC World Service during the overnight hours and daily broadcasts from two American evangelical broadcasters -- John MacArthur ("Grace to You") and Chuck Swindoll ("Insight for Living"). You can listen to 4RPH via the TuneIn radio app.
Scenes from around Australia illustrate aircraft safety procedures. The brace position demonstration made my wife laugh out loud. Josephine Falls looks like fun. And that's an impressive beard at Lefroy Flats.
How to produce Australian vowels: The long "O" sound amuses me. Women particularly seem to draw it out -- even radio announcers.
In 1908, just seven years after Australia's federation, a young woman named Dorothea Mackellar wrote a tribute to her homeland. The poem, "My Country," is sometimes called by the first line of its second verse, the beginning of the poem proper after a prefatory stanza.
I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror - The wide brown land for me!
Here is audio of the poet herself reciting her work, many years later, accompanied by photos of Australia that illustrate "sapphire-misted mountains," "pitiless blue sky," "jewel sea" -- this "wilful, lavish land."
Mackellar was a third-generation Australian, whose grandparents arrived from Scotland in 1839. Her official website describes the sentiment that produced this poem.
The first draft of My Country was written in England when Miss. Mackellar was feeling homesick for Australia. Dorothea Mackellar wanted the verse to express her deep and true love for her country. It was re-written several times before a satisfactory completion.
She resented the tendency of acquaintances in her youth to discredit Australia, and to refer to England as 'Home'. As a young girl Dorothea was clearly aware of the variety and beauty presented by the Australian landscape. The majority of her poetry has taken its imagery from her love of the natural Australian scenery. The original title for "My Country" was "Core of My Heart", and was the title used when the poem was first published in 1908, in the London Spectator Magazine.
Here is a choral setting of the poem:
A bit of silliness in the form of a YouTube playlist:
Josh Hawkins and Rhys Keir explain how to speak Australian and, in a second video, how Australians abbreviate names. The third video features Hawkins with an adorable six-year-old girl who translates his phrases into formal English.
Hawkins is the minister to young adults for St. Paul's Castle Hill Church in Sydney.
Later in the playlist, I've got some videos from the Film Australia Collection -- short subjects produced in the 1950s and 1960s aimed at attracting immigrants -- and a historical documentary on the evolution of Brisbane's main shopping street over 170 years of history.
The Tulsa Buffaloes Australian Rules Football team will play Des Moines this Saturday, September 10, 2016, at 2 p.m. at Veterans Park, 21st & Boulder Ave.
The word "football" in Australia can have five different meanings, each of which corresponds to a different professionally-played sport:
1. Gridiron football -- what Americans usually mean when we say "football," with yard lines, helmets, pads, downs, and forward passing. The National Gridiron League was set to launch this October with eight teams along the east coast, but delays (visas for players and coaches, according to rumor) have forced the first games to October 2017. Every state but Tasmania has a gridiron league; Queensland has 11 clubs, each of which hosts a men senior team (19 and up), and many host teams for women, teenage boys (14-18), and pre-teen boys (10-13). In 2014, five state-wide teams participated in a round-robin competition called the Australian Gridiron League. An Australian national team participates in the International Federation of American Football along with the US, Mexico, France, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea.
2. Rugby union -- the original form of rugby, played 15 to a side. Originally an amateur sport, teams in five major Australian cities participate in a professional Super Rugby league that includes teams in New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, and South Africa. There are leagues and clubs at state and regional levels.
3. Rugby league -- the schismatic form of rugby, but the most followed professional form in Australia, with 13 to a side and more continuous flow of play. This is the pro sport that gets the most attention in the eastern states of Queensland and New South Wales, reflected in the annual State of Origin three-match series that pits representative teams from the two states against each other. The rule books of Rugby League and Rugby Union are referred to as "codes," and the term has been generalized to refer to the different forms of football, including those with no connection to rugby.
4. Soccer: Highest level of participation of any sport in the country, but not as popular as Rugby League as a spectator sport. Highest league is the A-League, with 10 teams (including one in New Zealand). The indoor variant is known as futsal.
5. Australian rules football: If you watched ESPN in the early days, before the network was part of the Disney family, before the network had won the rights to air major league US sports, you probably witnessed the spectacle of 18-a-side "football" played on an oval and officials in fedoras and lab coats signalling goals by pointing their fingers and waving flags. Four poles stand at each end of the oval or "paddock," which can range from 135 to 185 meters long. A ball kicked between the two tall posts at the center is a goal worth six points; a ball that goes between one of the shorter outside posts and one of the tall center posts is a "behind" worth one point.
Aussie football had its origins in Melbourne, and the state of Victoria remains the heart of its popularity, but the top Australian Football League has teams in major cities across the nation. Four of the AFL clubs in Queensland and New South Wales have reserve squads that play alongside six non-affiliated teams in the second-tier North East Australian Football League. One step further down (AA, in baseball terms), statewide leagues like AFL Queensland offer clubs at various levels of play, and the clubs typically have several squads, such as seniors, reserves, juniors, and women; often all the squads from two clubs will play each other in a series of matches on the same day.
About a month ago, I took the CityCat (a catamaran ferry that runs between the Brisbane ocean liner port at Hamilton and the University of Queensland campus several miles upstream) to see an Aussie rules match in person. The match was between the reserves of the University of Queensland Red Lions and the Western Magpies. I arrived in time to see the last two 20-minute quarters. No admission was charged. There were a couple of three-row bleachers, but most of the few dozen spectators sat on grassy berms around the oval, seeking shade where possible on a warm midwinter day. As the game rolled on, pink-shirted water carriers would circulate among the players who were away from the ball. As large as the oval was, it was tough to get a clear view of the action on the other side, and I could understand why field-level seats at an NEAFL match were less expensive than higher level seats.
A concrete pavilion at one end of the field had locker rooms, restrooms for spectators, and a concession stand with a grill where sausages, burgers, and onions were being cooked by supporters of the home club. The burgers were served on a sesame bun, but the sausages were served with grilled onions in a diagonally-folded piece of white bread. Soft drinks were available, but you could also get a XXXX Gold (the local beer) or a can of Bundaberg rum and cola. (Fosters is not Australian for beer, at least in Queensland. I don't think I saw a Fosters for sale the entire trip.)
True to their nicknames, the Magpies were much more aggressive and noisy than the UQ students, calling out to each other and heckling the UQ players when they took free kicks. The Magpies reserves beat UQ handily, 19 goals, 11 behinds for 125 points to 5 goals and 12 behinds for 42 points. I stayed around for the first few minutes of the next match, between the seniors, the top players of each club, which started out more competitively, then met up with some friends for a tour of the city.
Tulsa has an Australian rules football team, the Tulsa Buffaloes, who play their home matches at Veterans' Park.