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The day the Aussies went back to school

Oliver Brett | 07:28 UK time, Monday, 20 November 2006

ob66.jpgTurn 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.

blog_ponting203.jpgIf 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.

These were great conditions for cricket. The hot sunshine had much of its edge taken off it by the breeze that gently rustled through the Moreton Bay fig trees and Casaurina pines.

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.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 09:53 AM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Jen wrote:

Sounds as though we have a fair bit to do to catch up then if the facilities there are so good, though without a doubt the weather out there is a big factor. I am sure cricket would be bigger here if we had better wetaher as we would have more chance to play it. But let's face it the best months here wetaher-wise are when the schools are shut for the sumer holidays.. we can't win really. Also I can never remember cricket being an option in my school at all (for the boys). It really is a sorry state of affairs..

  • 2.
  • At 12:02 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Matty B wrote:


Although it may appear as though there is a difference in weather and schooling between the two countries, they're not that far apart.

Over here the cricket season starts mid October and ends in February. At school there is usually a 5 week break for summer holidays from Christmas to the end of January. So really, from a school perspective there really is only 2 months of cricket played.

Compare that with what happens in the UK and you'll see that there's not a lot of difference.

And using Brisbane Grammar's facilities as an example would be like using any of the major Public schools in the UK. Not many people get the opportunity to attend such a school.

The major difference is the culture. Aussies are brought up on sport and winning teams. The drive, determination and competitive spirirt is what makes Australian teams successful and this in instilled in the youth at an early age. The national cricket team are the equivalent of superstar Premier League players, but there is only one team that people here support. Australia. Club games are OK. but if you want to be a name, then you have to play for Australia at Rugby, Cricket or Rugby League. Nothing else matters. How many English kids do you know who's ambition it is to play for England? Most want to play for Cheslea or Man United.

  • 3.
  • At 12:03 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Olivepicker wrote:

Since when has any British Government invested the requred amount of finance into sports development in schools generally. Only now, with 2012 on the horizon, is money and time being provided, but then cricket isn't an olympic sport. I have taught in the Secondary sector for 30 years and it disgusts and frustrates me that the only initiative we can come up with is Kelly Holmes as an ambassador to shools. Australia values the competitive spirit, but what do we do? Stifle it! Having watched the dismal international performances in both rugby codes recently, we have the skill, but the mental preparation and confidence isn't there. How much are we paying the psychologists? It isn't value for money.

  • 4.
  • At 01:16 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Gareth wrote:

Having attended a private school in the Uk and taught at a private school in Melbourne (Caulfield Grammer School), I can say that facilities are that much different, and Caulfield has some of the best facilities in Melbourne and is one of/if not the best all round sporting school. I know of schools in the UK that are used for county games and there are numerous that are better than most decent club sides. In Australia the pitches are i believe of the same standard.

Where things are different, is that most players that play cricket in the uk do it for a club, school cricket has demised the old 11.00 o'clock starts have gone in preference of children not missing lessons and therefore threatening the schools position in the league tables. In australia while at school most cricket australians play is representative or within a school enviroment. So cricket and in deed sport is given a greater focus.

However the cirkcet season in England at school's is given a major disadvantage for the summer holidays, this is worse in Australia, as it is over the end of the school year so year 12's are not allowed to play in the first half of the year as they will not be there for the second half of the season.

I think the article over states the comparison between school facilities in Australia compared to England . Having been to Brisbane Grammer's facilities and seen alot of the Melbourne schools facilities, yes they are impressive, however i think school's like Oundle, Oakham, Manchester Grammer, Milfield, Eton and cheltenham to name but a few schools i have myself played at would have something to say about that comment.

  • 5.
  • At 04:27 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Leon wrote:

England's only hope from a series whitewash is inclement weather!

  • 6.
  • At 07:38 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • patrick wrote:

facilities that no school has? hmm, well eton has massive playing fields all are top notch, oakham have one of the best, shrewsbury school have a new indoor school that puts lords to shame and it has 2 full size pitches with 4 pitches close to full size, but schools are producing more and more stars and there are more school boy competitions, e.g lords tavenors?

  • 7.
  • At 09:38 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • a wrote:

At my school we have four cricket pitches but they are used for rugby in autumn and football in winter.

There is also an amazing pavilion but its only used for the 1st XI - everyone else doesn't have a pavilion.

We certainly do have a lot of catching up but aussies do the media stuff whereas we concentrate on our cricket and win - works out for us.

  • 8.
  • At 11:09 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Michaelis wrote:

I am writing this from the perspective of an Aussie who went through the government school system and have had a inkling of what these private schools are like since my son is going to one and happens to play cricket for one. If you think these rich schools with their disgusting amounts of government handouts spent on their high level of facilities for their pampered students have had a role in Australia's cricket ascendancy I suggest you look to the present team. Not one came from them. Nor has any in recent memory. In NSW Australia's cricket powerhouse, the last was Billy Watson, (4 Tests, ave 17.66) who went to Newington School, and who managed to score the only century against Larwood in Grade cricket some fifty years ago. Does that give you an idea of how unproductive these schools have been for Australia? The facilities at these very rich private schools as we call them, public schools as you English call them, are beside the point. In fact the strength of Australia's cricket is forged in the sun-baked rough ovals of the outer suburbs of the bigger cities and even more importantly in the harsh bush. There you find hard grounds which require excellent back foot technique and a batsman who will score at a good clip. My son is now going to such a school and I must say that the standard of the cricket played there is significantly below that of the local oval. Any decent Australian boy cricketer is playing hard against men in open Grade cricket by the time he is 15. That is the key. These rich schools with their arrogant insistence that the boys play substandard cricket for the school as opposed to playing decent cricket against the best cricketers actually detract from the production of first class cricketers. So if you want to know what I would blame for your problems. I suggest you think about your weather - not much you can do about that. But also you must ask where your children are playing. Do you have cricket nets set up in every neighborhood? We do. From what I hear England lost a lot more than mere infrastructure when the loony economic rationalists sold up what the (allegedly non-existent) society needed. (Thanks and goodbye Milton Friedman!!) You lost precious cricket fields. Forget the rich schools, if you depend on them, you are lost. It is no accident that none of our Test team comes from them.

Michaelis is probably a little harsh in his assessment of private (public in England) school sports. I agree that cricket in Australian private schools is not as good as it should be but the disruption of the christmas school holidays and the seniors only playing in the first semester means that is the way it will probably always be. However, when these school are able to put all their resources into a sport and have the student/players for an uninterupted period then the results are can be awesome. Rugby is king at these schools and they are factory like in their production of high quality Rugby players.Some of the large GPS schools in Sydney and Brisbane have produced scores of Wallabies.

The Brisbane Grammar grounds are superb but I would be surprised if there was not public schools in England with similar facilities. Michaelis is quite correct about the community sport/cricket facilities. Most Australian suburbs/country towns have at least one major cricket/sports field (sometimes several). The overwhelming majority of these are supplied and maintained by local councils. They usually have concrete wickets with an astroturf covering. Outfields vary from good to appalling. This is where every cricketer in Australia starts out. All the guys who represent Australia on Thursday will have learnt their cricket on these type of grounds. Very few will have played on anything as good as the Brisbane Grammar Fields when they were young.

  • 10.
  • At 09:17 AM on 21 Nov 2006,
  • Jos wrote:

The difference between Aussies & Poms is not due to weather or facilities. It comes down to determination to win at sport - and a culture that places an emphasis on winning. The Poms like to win but if they don't - well, it is only a game. For the Aussie, it is life - and you gotta be a winner.

I don't think Don Bradman had any facilitiies ....

I have a horrible feeling this series has been overhyped and that there will be disappointment at the end - or even beginning at Brisbane. England are not the side they were, and on home ground I think the Aussies will cruise to an easy series win. I hope I am wrong.

  • 11.
  • At 09:54 AM on 21 Nov 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Michaelis and Matty B have hit the nail right on the head.
The facilities do not make great sportsmen. They can provide additional support of course, but they don't have to be world class.
Aussies are raised from a young age to go for the jugular. We're a small nation, but we fight above our weight when it comes to competitive sport. This is a national identity, which can be viewed in our Coat of Arms: The Kangaroo and the Emu facing each other; the only two Aussie animals that can't walk backwards, which have come to symbolise the mantra of "never give up, never back down".

  • 12.
  • At 06:23 PM on 21 Nov 2006,
  • Chappelli wrote:

Michaelis is surely wrong about no Aussie cricketers coming from private (in England Public) schools. I recall a chap called Ian Redpath whose name was gilded in the dining hall at Geelong Grammar when I was there as a pupil. He was quite good, you know, if a bit dour.

  • 13.
  • At 07:17 PM on 21 Nov 2006,
  • Nealt wrote:

Some interesting points made by most people. Just want to point out that it is Club Cricket that keeps the game afloat in England, not governments or schools or anyone else. Thanks should be given to the hundreds of people who give up there time introducing the game to kids from 6 yrs and on in just about every Cricket Club in the country.
Thanks to those people for trying to induce in those kids a love of the game, respect for the oppostion and umpires and for giving them the opportunity to play what is undoubtedly the greatest game in the world. Come on England!!

  • 14.
  • At 03:22 AM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Jon wrote:

As an expat Brit living in Sydney since '99 with 4 years grade cricket experience I can say that the key advantages of the Australian game are:
Better pitches which encourage proper stroke makers and attacking bowlers who do a bit more than just bowl straight.
Grade cricket where the cream can rise to the top, particularly when young players given opportunities over older ones
Australian cricket team status - the pre-eminent national sport and true national team. Every young boy wants to play cricket for Australia.
State cricket ensures that the top 70 players in the country play each other regularly and the standard is very high - just look at the NSW and SA teams in the England warm up games, stuffed with current or past Test players

Really not sure about the wining culture bit. While it is part of the national psyche, I have played with plenty of people in Oz and UK who just hate losing and other who don't care. I just think that naturally the mentally tough individuals rise to the top quicker in Australia and through state cricket are better prepared for Test cricket.

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