We got there at 2pm, Linda and I along with two of our sons and one with his Canadian girlfriend Kristina. She’d never been to a cricket match, and that was one of the main reasons we had gone today.
We settled in for the game, which was scheduled to run for several hours and finish somewhere around 10:30pm. It was a balmy 22 degrees, yet we knew the Australian sun would still pack a punch. Seeing that we would be in full sun until dusk, we did what everyone with any sense did – covered up, hats on and sunscreen fully applied. Though we coped with its unrelenting rays, we were grateful when the first edge of shade finally found us 5 hours later.
What a crowd! Not a large one by MCG standards, a mere 33,000 in a stadium built to hold 100,000, but there were enough to make noise and have some fun. And they did. The first ball of the game drew cheers and claps though it was nothing remarkable, and neither was the game itself as it unfolded throughout the day. It was a match between Australia and Pakistan and ticked along with no outstanding features, except that Pakistan, unexpectedly, and to the great delight of Pakistan fans, eventually overcame a lacklustre Australia to win for the first time this year. But what the game lacked (though it was enjoyable as a kind of background) the crowd made up for.
I don’t know if we were in the rowdiest part of the crowd. There seemed to be noise and colour everywhere, but if we weren’t the noisiest we must have come close. Yobbos all around us (an Aussie term for louts and larrikins) were good naturedly egging everyone with a beer in their hands, to scull it down. “Scull, scull, scull, scull scull…..” they shouted with increasing intensity, followed by uproarious cheers when the target of their chant did just that. And, like elsewhere in the stadium, there were inflated beach balls bouncing up and down the rows, being hit back up into the air by whoever it landed on, the only rule being to make sure it didn’t bounce unintentionally onto the field. That meant sudden death for the beach ball – it would be confiscated and not seen again.
Security and the police were in highly visible numbers, at least in our area. It surprised me, because cricket, in our experience (admittedly we don’t go that often) is not an angry sport – the crowd are often cheery rather than angry. Maybe it’s because it’s summer rather than winter (that’s when our football season is on, and the crowds can definitely be ugly). Maybe it’s because it’s not a contact sport. I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, cricket crowds in our experience haven’t been malicious. Anyway, either through a misguided sense of zeal, or perhaps out of previous experience, they began to pounce on anyone who did indeed scull their drink at the encouragement of the crowd. “Booooo”, we all responded. “Unfair”, we shouted at them as they dragged the offending spectator away. There was no danger as far as we could see. Let them have their fun.
And then there were the costumes. Different people had dressed up as famous personalities. One particular cricket commentator, very popular but now passed away, was represented by a crowd of guys dressed like him and with his colour hair. There were a bunch of guys in red dresses and wigs, there the Tele Tubbies characters, there was Superman and Spider-Man, there was the Mario Brothers. There were also plenty of people wearing their watermelon helmets (watermelons scooped out and the shell cut and shaped in all sorts of ways, and then plonked on your head as a hat, some of them very clever indeed, but all surely a bit stinky).
And of course there were the colours. Green and gold, Australia’s sporting colours, painted on faces, displayed on hats and tops. And the purple and white, the team colours of Pakistan, just as proudly worn, and banners and flags draped and waved, waved and draped.
There were regular attempts at a Mexican wave, and one succeeded in going around and around the stadium for many as three times before it petered out. Our section, loud as ever, regularly tried to resurrect it, but it failed to catch on again much to their own vocal indignation. And there was of course the great Aussie anthem that is shouted out at most Aussie sporting matches:
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi,oi,oi!
Aussie, Aussie , Aussie, oi,oi,oi!
Aussie, oi! Aussie, oi!
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi,oi,oi!”.
It never ceases to amaze me how certain individuals, clearly not wallflowers, would stand to their feet, again and again as the day progressed, bellowing out, with ever increasing hoarseness, that beloved anthem, and no matter how times they did it, the crowd would unfailingly respond with an equally enthusiastic “oi, oi, oi!”.
And of course there were the roars from the crowd when a four was hit or someone was bowled out, and in the inevitable lulls in the game music would be cranked up, rock classics that everyone would instantly recognise and sing along to. Up would jump all the costumed ones, and some who were just keen, to dance and prance around in the hope of catching the eye of the TV cameras and be displayed on the big screens. Linda and I never jumped up, but we sang along and swayed from side to side laughing with the dagginess of it all.
Though it was all pretty boisterous it was never too rankling. Sure there was the odd shout out that was crass or just plain wrong, but overall, a good natured presence prevailed. I suppose if we had had loud people right behind us it would have been too much. But thankfully we were just near enough and just far enough away to enjoy it all without being overwhelmed by any of it.
So with the force of sun upon us and the noise, the colour and the boisterousness all around us, the day happily unfurled and finally passed with us heading home, tired but elated, at about 10:15. Even the walk back to the car was rewarding. A peaceful and contented crowd, walking through elegant parkland made eerily beautiful with its night lighting, and the magical evening atmosphere, a kind of glow that settles on everything, that is a Melbourne summers evening.