The day the Aussies went back to school
Turn right at the corner of Nudgee Road and Toombul Road in the north Brisbane suburbs and you find yourself in the car park of Northgate Playing Fields.
There are four full-size cricket grounds here, two of them framed by attractive white picket fences, and there’s also a superbly equipped pavilion that puts most England county grounds to shame.
But these are not facilities owned by the Queensland Cricket Association. This is where Brisbane Grammar School comes to play its home cricket matches.
If you need just one reason to understand why Australia has been so dominant in cricket for the last 15 years, just consider that no English school, private or otherwise, can boast such wonderful facilities.
And on Monday, there was an added incentive for some of the school’s players, because they had some pretty important guests – the Australian cricket team.
Autograph-hunters and locals who had read about the surprise visit drifted by to watch the action.
Some even brought picnics, but nearly everyone wore hats and high-factor suncream, an absolute must in these parts.
On pitch number one, Glenn McGrath looked short of his best form. Bowling to a young left-hander, he sprayed several deliveries down the leg-side and was eventually pulled dismissively for four.
Knowing McGrath, he was probably bowling badly on purpose, but not Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, who sent down deliveries with plenty of venom.
Justin Langer, meanwhile, had a net against some of the school’s fast bowlers using new balls on a green turf strip.
It was a combination that provided plenty of movement, and Langer was not entirely in control of affairs.
His opening partner Matthew Hayden had a long session with the bowling machine on a concrete strip, fed by Aussie coach John Buchanan.
Afterwards he and the other players would consent to what amounted to an hour of interviews with the rapidly-expanding pack of journalists.
Only two were excused media duty.
Shane Watson went for a scan on his troublesome hamstring after gingerly sending down a dozen deliveries – none off his full run-up.
And Ricky Ponting, who gives so many interviews the rest of the time, was also allowed to return early to the team hotel.
I shared a taxi back with a radio reporter from a local station in Melbourne which would never normally send someone to cover an event so far away. The flight to Brisbane is nearly two-and-a-half hours.
“The story’s Watson, but the grabs are all colour,” the radio man said on the phone to his boss, meaning he had plenty of nice interviews but nothing really newsworthy.
That’s sometimes the difficulty with the build-up to a series like this.
The hype is largely justified, but come Thursday, everyone will just be desparate to see that first ball bowled in anger and kick off what could be another brilliant Ashes.