Growing up in Rockhampton, a 7 hour drive from the state capital of Brisbane, it meant that you missed out on a lot of great things that never made it to regional Queensland. That could be concerts, plays, musicals, or sports matches and more.
My favourite game to play and watch for as long as I can remember was cricket. As a teenager I’d take the plastic case cricket ball up to the nets and practice bowling for hours on end with my friends and in some cases even by myself. As limited overs cricket was taking off in a big way in the late 80s and early 90s, I’d watch the One Day Internationals (ODIs) on the TV in the dining room with the headphones on (never allowed on the “big” TV because my mother hated cricket).
I started taking more of an interest in Test Cricket watching several games on TV in different cities around Australia and started developing a love for the original format of the game. Five days in the field, three, two-hour sessions each day was a lot of play time. The strategy was very different and it was, for me at least, much more interesting to watch. For the players it truly was a “Test” of their skill and endurance and lives up to its name.
In January of 1990 a rare thing happened in my home town - Sri Lanka’s test side were playing at the Rockhampton Cricket Ground (next to Callaghan Park horse-track) and my mother relented to my incessant nagging and stumped up the money for tickets for me to go with my grandfather to watch the Queensland XI vs Sri Lanka. It was a 2-day game and I didn’t have the attention span I do now, but the biggest thrill was meeting the Australian Wicket Keeper, Ian Healy. On the Queensland side we had other Australian Test Match players including Craig McDermott, Stuart Law, Greg Richtie and Michael Kasprowicz. I was lucky to get Ian Healy and Stuart Law’s autographs…I still have them today.
Fresh from that experience I defied my mothers wishes (somewhat) and was up at the crack of sparrows watching as much of the Australian tour of the West Indies as I could manage, in 1991. Watching the Aussies play against the mighty West Indies in Jamaica, Gyana, Port of Spain, Barbados and Antigua was eye-opening. The wickets, the grand stands and the atmosphere was totally different from what I’d seen in Australia. I couldn’t watch every day though, since I had school.
A lot of things happened: started at Uni, went to Canada, I got my degree, went to Canada again, came back to Australia and ended up in Brisbane, got married and had four kids. (I know, that’s a lot…) When in Brisbane there were many opportunities to see international matches but I didn’t feel like it was an experience to had by myself, so I decided to go with my brother in law, who was English, to watch England vs Sri Lanka in December of 2002 since my wife (like my mother) hated cricket. It was at the Gabba and it was fine, but there was something about watching your own country play that was missing.
And so it wasn’t until my third-born, Benjamin, who started making a name as an opening Fast Bowler for the local junior cricket club and my oldest, Madeline, started coming to watch Ben bowl that things started to shift.
During my family-focus-hiatus from cricket, I’d missed an important evolution of the game of Cricket, with the English and Wales Cricket Board in 2003 formalising a new format of the game called Twenty-20 or just T20. Test Matches ran for five days, ODIs for one Day (50 overs per side) and T20s for about 2.5 hours (20 overs per side). I was skeptical at first but when I took Ben to his first cricket match at the Gabba in January 2018 I was shocked at how many people were there. It was called the BBL or Big Bash League and the Brisbane team were called the Heat.
T20 was fun, but brief and in subsequent years (not much during COVID) we went with my Brothers in Law, my daughter and this season my oldest son also came along with the Brisbane Heat winning the season for only the second time in the 13 years BBL had been running.
Despite this, it wasn’t the Australian team and it wasn’t a test match…but that was about to change. In an unusual split Test match season in Australia, Pakistan played three matches against Australia and the West Indies were scheduled for two, with the final Test Match of the 23/24 season at the Gabba and it was a Day/Night Test Match - only the third ever Day/Night Test to be played at the Gabba and the 22nd Day/Night Test Match played since 2015.
We bought Twilight tickets for the first day since it was a work and school day and arrived 30mins into the second session. The atmosphere was very different to the BBL with the fielders on the boundary “playing” with the crowd and some of them taking breaks between deliveries to sign autographs on the boundary line.
Nathan Lyon motioning the crowd: I Can’t Hear You!
Usman Khawaja talking to the crowd
Nathan Lyon signing Autographs between deliveries
Day 2 we had seats out of the sun but it was quite hot and Day 3 was even worse, with our seats in the sun for nearly 2 hours, the hottest day this summer in Brisbane. Then at about 7pm I started feeling off, running a temperature and my progressive cough that I’d been trying to ignore during the afternoon got a lot worse.
We made it home safely but I felt horrible and whilst it wasn’t COVID I was unable to go to the final day we had tickets for and nor could my daughter as we were both sick. My oldest son then offered to take Ben on the fourth and likely final day and unfortunately for Australia we were bowled out, only 9 runs from the total we were chasing. The West Indies team were debuting so many new players in this team including an up and coming Fast Bowler Shamar Joseph. He’s 24 years old, used to work as a security guard and in the second innings took 7 Australian wickets despite an injured toe. We’ll be seeing more from this man in coming years I have no doubt.
Ben however stayed for the presentations after the game and not only did he finally get autographs for his signing bat, including that of Shamar Joseph, he had a few minutes chatting with Glen McGrath
We’d grabbed some merch, watched some amazing cricket and finally, finally at 47 years old, I’d finally made it to a test match and watched my country play against the West Indies right in front of my eyes. When I watched the test match series of Australia Touring the West Indies on TV some 33 years ago, I never thought I would see them play in person, but now I have. It was AWESOME.