Postcard from Melbourne: Part I

img_2072-cricketDespite an early morning arrival into Melbourne, we were able to get into our rental apartment, unpack and head out for breakfast nearby. We are staying in the same apartment in Prahran that we stayed in earlier in the year, only for longer. We enjoyed the area so much and it reminds me of where we used to live in London: lots of small independent shops, great restaurants, a buzzy and lively vibe. Of course, we stick out like two sore thumbs among the tattooed, shorts and singlet wearing local population.

Part of the area’s charm is that we know where to find most things but there’s still areas and side-streets to be explored. The spacious one-bedroomed flat has everything you need: great WiFi, dishwasher, washer/dryer, free car parking, a large balcony, great security, and more. In addition, we got quite friendly with the owner, a charming lady from Vietnam, who kindly stored our bulky bike boxes for the entire duration of our trip. She’s obliging again this time.

Having downed breakfast, we went shopping at the local market – my idea of heaven – snatched a power nap and then headed into Melbourne for the first of what was going to be many sporting events, a Twenty20 Big Bash match. Just a hop, skip and a jump on the train from where we were staying, once armed with our Myki tickets (Aussie version of Oyster cards).

I have fallen in love with The Big Bash League, the Australian professional Twenty20, eight-team cricket league  sponsored by none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken. Who knew the Colonel was a cricket fan? Generally I’m not, though I can appreciate the strategy and love the stats. My Dad played cricket and taught me to catch and bowl at an early age. As a result, I played cricket for school and was a demon batsman and bowler. Last year I thrilled to the exploits of Messrs Gayle and Khawaja, neither of whom is playing this year and, aside from seeing a live match in Adelaide, watched the last series on the television.

I find five-day test matches a long slow smoulder, while Big Bash games are incendiary devices. Judicious use of players and tactics still apply but there’s so much less time to achieve one’s goals. Only 20 overs (240 balls), around 80-90 minutes aggressive play for each team, and it’s game over. Teams, which have a salary cap, can have a maximum of 18 contracted players with a minimum of two rookies and a maximum of two overseas’ players, plus their understudies. For example, the Melbourne Renegades have Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine, both from the West Indies.

Twenty20 is very much family based entertainment and at least half of Thursday’s 23,000 audience were kids. Audience participation is greatly encouraged with prizes for those caught on camera performing the best air guitar routine, watering (one of the team’s sponsors makes hoses), victory celebration etc etc. You get the idea. In addition, there’s plenty of competitions at half-time with prizes for spectators and the dozens of pint-sized mascots. 23,000 might not sound like much of a crowd but, don’t forget, there’s two teams in Melbourne, the Renegades and the Stars.

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Dressed appropriately in red and black, we were supporting the Renegades who were up against last year’s league winners, Sydney Thunder. The latter won the toss and elected to field. The Renegades quickly built an impressive strike rate largely off the back of the exploits of their captain and firm crowd favourite, Aaron Finch. Having scored 7-179 runs, the Renegades managed to stifle and then snuff out any threat from the Stars using the full-range of their bowlers’ skills. It was an impressive shutdown.  Our next game is on New Year’s Day and it’s the Melbourne derby. But don’t expect any shots of either of us wearing KFC buckets, minus the chicken, on our heads!

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