Most of Australia’s club cricketers are well into the off season, with sunscreen swapped for scarves and the kit bag gathering dust in the shed, but the season’s just getting started in the tropical Top End.
The Darwin & Districts Cricket Competition commenced mid-April. Seven clubs are taking part in the Premier Grade competition, while five senior grades and an expanding junior competition are also underway.
Palmerstone are the defending Premier Grade champions but are facing stiff competition from both PINT and Darwin early into the 2012 season.
This year sees the introduction of a full round for each cricket format; Twenty20, 50 over and 2-day cricket in the Premier Grade, creating a total of 21 rounds of cricket for the season. The competition regularly attracts talented overseas imports as well as Australian players looking to hone their skills in the “southern” off season.
Opening batsman for Northcote Cricket Club in Victoria, Steve Taylor, is one such player. The 21-year-old arrived just a before the season started in order to face more balls and improve his game.
“I spent last off-season in the gym to get the body a bit stronger and a bit fitter and but sat down with the people I respected – club coaches and my father – and this was the best course of action to get my game to new level,” Mr Taylor said.
More than 25 per cent of Darwin’s population is indigenous. Three indigenous players were part of the NT Under-17 squad that produced some excellent results at the national championships in Hobart last December. The squad won four of its games, including victories over New South Wales and Victoria.
Northern Territory Cricket CEO Andrew Ramsay says the success of the National Indigenous Cricket Championships and the Imparja Cup, held in Alice Springs in February this year, underline the passion indigenous people have for cricket in the region.
“It’s grown to a 32-team competition where teams from all around the country – including many from remote indigenous communities – come to play, so it’s a very unique event,” Mr Ramsay said.
“We’re always overwhelmed by the affection for cricket that indigenous people have.”
The hot and humid conditions present challenges for both players and ground staff. John Furner, Marrara Oval Curator has been keeping 28 pitches in good shape in stifling heat for the past five years. Mr Furner said the conditions don’t tend to favour swing bowling as much as people might think.
“Probably early in the season and late in the season it does a little bit, but in the winter months it’s pretty stock-standard weather,” Mr Furner said.
“But in saying that, we’ve had good spin bowlers take wickets all year round, so if you put them in the right spots, I guess you’ll get the wickets.”
Darwin has a population of 100,000 people, yet the cricket facilities are of an extremely high standard, particularly at NT Cricket’s home, Marrara Oval, following a recent $3million facelift. Mr Ramsey uses the phrase “the Darwin surprise” to describe the reaction when visitors tour the sporting precincts.
The redevelopment includes a new office space, state-of-the-art change rooms with ice baths and a covered training centre with four lanes, including bowler’s run-ups adjacent to a new turf block.
“We really want to make this a genuine first-class precinct and we think there’s a genuine opportunity to host more cricket here during the months between April and September,” Mr Ramsay said.
Darwin also boasts some other picturesque venues, including Waratah Cricket Club home ground Gardens Oval, opposite the iconic Mindil Beach, and Kahlin Oval near Cullen Bay.
Northern Territory Cricket Operations Manager, Brett Rankin, said it’s not just the local players that enjoy the Gardens Oval atmosphere.
“A lot of our interstate cricketers who come to Darwin certainly love playing here,” Mr Rankin said.
“The South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) have played here, the Tasmanian Tigers have played here and the ground has also been used for some international fixtures.”
The Northern Territory is renowned for its dangerous wildlife and while the famous “salties” have yet to inflict a cricketing casualty, there have been some unusual spectators on hand from time to time.
“We had a family of dingoes move in over the off season,” Mr Ramsay said.
“They were nice little dingoes and didn’t do any harm, and we’ve also had a few snakes, which the curator hates, but it’s really not as jungle-like as you might think.”
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 17 May, 2012 4:25PM AEST