Australia, the final frontier. We still have almost 90 days left on our world trip, but, other than New Zealand, this is the last country we will visit.
The journey from Cape Town, South Africa, to Adelaide, South Australia, was long, with over 22 of the 30-odd hours spent inside a plane. I tried not to think about all that ocean beneath us, waiting to swallow us whole.
As we made our final descent and tiny specks turned into buildings once more, Subash called out from his window seat, “There is a cricket ground! There is a cricket ground!” We had come to the land of sport.
The jet lag has been rough, unlike anything I’ve experienced so far. Suddenly, I have been waking up at 4am, unable to go back to sleep, before finally falling unconscious into the afternoon.
On our second day in Adelaide, we wandered the streets downtown, and, eventually, reeled in by some invisible thread that connects Subash to all places cricket, made it to the Adelaide Oval. We were the only people around. A stiff breeze blew fallen leaves in swirls around the frozen turnstiles. We couldn’t help it, we started trying the doors.
Alas, the place seemed locked up tight.
A friendly guard with a cowrie shell necklace appeared and told us that while the stadium was indeed closed for the evening, it was usually open from 9am to 5pm, and we could come back any other day and take a look in. All our skulking and scheming, and it turned out we were more than welcome – it was like breaking in through a window to find the front door was open.
He told us that the ground was only locked down then because of a Big Bash League match being played the next day. The women’s team played first around 2pm, then the men. Tickets were still available, did we want to go? No worries, mate, glad to have ya!
And so, the next afternoon found us back at the stadium under an unseasonably cloudy sky, ready for some Australian cricket.
It was wonderful to watch the women’s teams. I haven’t watched much women’s cricket yet, and it struck me how carefully each ball was placed by the batters on the field. The men’s Twenty20 is made up largely of smash hits that sail over the heads of the fielders. The women, however, played the way Test matches are played, keeping the ball low, expertly placing it to the open spaces between fielders.
The stadium was mostly empty, but the hundred or so fans who were there were avid, and watched carefully. Again, like the Test matches I have seen, a solid effort from either side was applauded, although the home team, South Australia Scorpions, were of course the favourites.
Partway through the match, a woman appeared with her two sons. They walked past us to sit in the front row, wearing the team colours and everything, and I was so happy and proud to see a mother bringing her boys to watch the women play. I started to think of how meaningful it was, of all the implications stretching into the future. How the boys would grow up to know that women were multifaceted, capable of anything, and what better men they would be for this knowledge. I was so moved that during one of the many rain breaks, while her sons were off searching for stadium food, I went down to talk to her. “Did you bring your sons to watch the match?” I asked, my eyes glowing.
“No,” she replied, “We thought the men’s match started now. I didn’t realise this was first. It’s going to be an awfully long time to wait for the men’s match.” And then, just to bring it home, “I have to tell you, I don’t know what these women see in playing.”
All of my assumptions and my Very Important Ideas for the Future thrown back in my face. A sad reminder to never assume you know someone’s story. I fell back in my plastic stadium seat, deflated.
I suppose in the end, at least they were there. Whether she meant them to see it or not, her sons saw the women’s teams play, saw them bat and bowl, saw the captain lead her team-mates. Saw how strong and capable they were, how dedicated, how good. I hope they were watching. I hope they saw what those women saw in playing. I can hope.
The rain reduced the number of overs, and shortly after this exchange, the game ended. Up next were the men, the Adelaide Strikers, against Sydney Thunder, and the crowds poured in. The rain poured too, but that didn’t stop people from coming. They showed up with umbrellas and in ponchos, decked out in Strikers blue. Blue wigs, blue face paint, blue hair spray, shiny blue nail polish. They were helped along by the free giveaways, which included light-up badges, clappers and signs. The match was delayed, the tarps stayed on, and still they came.
I’ve never seen anything like it. On a Monday night, in the rain, they came in the thousands to watch their team. The final tally was 43,300 visitors to the stadium, out of a 53,000-fan capacity.
Two young boys in front of me, not older than seven, cheered for the covers to come off. One practised his bowing action from his seat, and batted with an empty bottle. I could hear the “thock” he made, even over the roar of the crowd, as they waited for the match to begin.
I’ve never seen so many people wait so patiently for something that is being held just out of their reach. They seemed happy to crowd in together, dressed in blue, safe in the knowledge that sport was coming soon.
In the end, the match took place briefly on and off, before finally being washed out around 10pm. I didn’t hear anyone complain, not even the children who had surely had their attention spans stretched beyond their breaking point. Everyone just packed up and headed out into the rain together, seeming to understand that this is just the way cricket goes sometimes. We went with them, padding down the footpath and into the train station, sliding on the wet tiles as a thousand conversations broke over us.
When we finally arrived home, it was with a certain feeling of contentment – the one you get when you have been wet and cold but now are wrapped in a warm blanket, your socks and shoes out to dry. The feeling of sharing an experience, a few moments, of becoming friends with strangers.
It is the feeling of being on a team. That is, after all, what those women see in it. It is what the men see in it. It is a feeling worth waiting in the rain for, worth travelling the world for. It is what keeps us coming back.