Alice Springs – England v Chairman’s XI

When I was planning this trip I noticed that England were playing a two day game in Alice Springs. I decided to add this game to my itinerary as it gave me the opportunity to see more cricket and also experience the Australian outback. I leave tomorrow for a 3 day tour to Uluru, Kings Canyon and other Red Centre highlights. The last two days have focused on the cricket.

The match gave the opportunity for England to get some match practice ahead of the second test which starts in Adelaide next Thursday. In particular it gave some of the back up batsmen opportunity to put their name in the spotlight with a good performance. There is now a batting vacancy following Jonathan Trott’s withdrawal from the tour due to a stress related illness.

The match was held at Traeger Park which handily is directly opposite my hotel! the cricket ground is named after Alfred Traeger who is an Australian inventor who invented the pedal wireless used by the flying doctor service. It’s a very different stadium to the one I visited in Brisbane. There is one permanent stand seating 250 people. The remaining spectators sat on grass banking or in temporary stands. I took up a seat at the back of a covered temporary stand. Given temperatures were forecast to reach close to 40 degrees shade would be very welcome.

It really was an idyllic setting with views of the McDonnell ranges.

On day one I met two Aussie guys – Jim and Chris who lived in the northern territory. They were great company and treated me to a sausage sandwich. Thanks guys! They are keen cricket fans and along with many other Aussies living out in the northern territory were very excited that England had come to town. The local paper “Centralian Advocate” had published a souvenir edition to mark the occasion. As the day commenced i became increasingly distracted/entertained by a group of Aussie guys who had travelled here mostly from Sydney for a lads weekend. The volume level increased in line with number of tinnies of Carlton cold that they had consumed. It was all in good humour though.

Back to the cricket……. England batted. The Australian chairman XI consisted of state players who in most instances were second XI players. They were far from household names. On paper England had by far the stronger side. A succession of England batsmen got in and then got themselves out. The main player to do himself justice was Zimbabwean born Gary Ballance who scored a confident 55 before being run out after a mix up with Ian Bell. England declared at 212-7. The Chairman’s xi reached 16 without loss at close of play.

On day 2 I resumed my seat. It was going to be another hot one! I was sat with a couple, Phil and Rachel, from Sheffield. Phil had been out on the ashes tour starting with the warm up games and had been joined in Brisbane by Rachel. Phil had taken redundancy from a job as a civil servant. Rachel is a part time GP. Following redundancy, Phil had essentially retired and handed me a business card which stated “Sheffield United and Yorkshire Cricket fan. England Football & cricket tourist”.Phil and Rachel had seen England play cricket in Australia, South Africa and India. I must admit to being very envious of Phil’s lifestyle apart from Sheffield Utd bit!

The Chairman’s XI managed to score 254-8 before declaring. England’s seam bowlers Finn, Rankin and Stokes didnt impress but the spinners Swann and Panesar took 7 wickets between them.

England then batted for an hour to reach 47-1 at close. The match was drawn.

the barmy army used the day to try out some new songs. my favourite was “Carberry fields forever” although the Ben stokes song “hokey stokey” needs more work…

England failed to impress with a number of players still clearly off form. I do not feel particularly optimistic for our chances in the second test but England do have a history of underperforming at the start of a tour before turning things around. My team for the second test is Cook, Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Root, Bairstow, Prior, Broad, Swann, Bresnan ( if fit enough), Anderson.

I have brought loads of books with me on this trip. Many given as gifts. By the time I get to India I need to be travelling light. So as I finish a book I will be leaving it behind. I hope those giving these as gifts dont mind too much…. The first book I have finished was Simon Briggs’ “stiff upper lips and baggy green caps”. It is a really entertaining history of the ashes with some great stories and characterisation. I highly recommend it.

So tomorrow I go to Uluru. Am very excited!

Traeger park with the McDonnell range in the background

Traeger park with the McDonnell range in the background

My vantage point for the match

My vantage point for the match

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Mike Atherton being interviewed by sky sport's Tim Abraham

Mike Atherton being interviewed by sky sport’s Tim Abraham

My new t shirt!

My new t shirt!

A red gum tree near my hotel in Alice

A red gum tree near my hotel in Alice

into the outback!

Today started with a 4.15 alarm call. After being on an extended holiday since mid October this came as a shock! I needed to be at Brisbane airport for a 7am flight to Cairns. After a couple of hours in the departure lounge in Cairns I would then board a flight to Alice Springs. Having consulted a map I was perplexed as to the flight arrangements my travel agent had made given that the distance between Brisbane and Alice is not that different to that from Cairns to Alice. Each flight was a little over 2 hours. The reason was later explained by there only being a couple of direct flights each week between Brisbane and Alice Springs.

I was amused to find the Qantas cabin crew serving me breakfast on the first flight bore more than passing resemblances to ex Aussie fast bowler Merv Hughes and Madge Bishop from Neighbours!

On the second flight I was sat with a great Aussie guy who grew up at Waikerie near Adelaide. Jason now ran a mobile phone business near Cairns and was going to Alice for a reunion with some mates who he used to play cricket with in Alice Springs. Jason had heard of my home town, Barnsley, as one of his Aussie cricketing mates played there one summer.

looking out of the window i got a real appreciation as to the vastness and remoteness of Australia. the scenery got desertlike. I was entering the Red Centre. I expected Alice Springs to be like a furnace. Recent temperatures have been reaching around 40 degrees. However when the flight landed it was relatively cool due to wind and cloud. It had rained earlier that day. The first meaningful rain for around 14 months.

Bizarrely I had to adjust my watch by 30 minutes on arriving here. Brisbane is half an hour ahead. A 30 minutes adjustment, what’s the point?!?!

i am here for England’s tour match against an Australian XI which starts tomorrow. The locals are worried that the weather may spoil their big day. It’s not every week that the England Cricket team come to town.

Brisbane – the last 3 days

I appreciate I have been quiet since the first test ended so my blog followers may be wondering what I have been up to….

Well I have visited 2 museums! The Museum of Brisbane within the City Hall and the Queensland Museum. Both were excellent and I feel much better informed about the history of Australia in general and Brisbane in particular. Most memorable was the cinematic style production at the start of the museum of Brisbane which charts the journey of the Brisbane River from its source at Mount Stanley before emptying into Moreton Bay. I also answered the question I posed in my previous post. Unsurprisingly the Brisbane Germans, along with Italians and Japanese, were interned during WW2.

I have been on the Wheel of Brisbane. This is Brisbane’s answer to the London Eye. Not having much of a head for heights I needed a strong coffee before going on. It was absolutely brilliant and a bargain at 20 Aussie dollars.

i enjoyed Tasmanian oysters at the champ kitchen and bar on the South Bank.

The highlight has been a visit to the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary on Fig Tree Pocket Road. It’s a half hour bus ride from central Brisbane. They have around a hundred koala’s there ranging from the babies (Joey’s) to ones that have been retired. There’ s a vast open area where you can get really close and feed kangaroo’s. They also have dingoes, wombats, a Tasmanian devil and a duck billed platypus. It’s excellent!

All in all I have really enjoyed Brisbane and I would definitely like to return here.

The free “city hopper” ferry has been a great way to travel around the city. The Queenslander houses made from timber set on high stumps with verandas are cool.

Preparations are in full swing for Christmas. A decorated tree has appeared this week outside the city hall. On the south bank yesterday 3 musicIan’s were playing Christmas carols ( although their repertoire also included Europe’s The Final Countdown and George Michael’s careless whisper!). Christmas in these temperatures is going to feel really weird.

Tomorrow my travels take me to Alice Springs. England have a two day match there against a Chairman’s Xi. They need the practice!

 

wombat

wombat

kangaroo family

kangaroo family

koala

koala

View of the city from the Brisbane River

View of the city from the Brisbane River

the wheel of Brisbane

the wheel of Brisbane

Brisbane City hall where the Museum of Brisbane is located

Brisbane City hall where the Museum of Brisbane is located

the Pineapple Hotel in the Queenslander style

the Pineapple Hotel in the Queenslander style

The City Hopper ferry

The City Hopper ferry

look at those blue skies behind the Christmas Tree!

look at those blue skies behind the Christmas Tree!

Ashes first test day 4 and the German Club

On day 4 I decided to wear the England cricket shirt that I had worn on day 1. We had performed much better on day 1 so I thought this shirt may be lucky…. There were early signs that the shirt may be working as England reached the first drinks interval without losing a wicket. Then soon afterwards KP got out by hitting out at Johnson and getting caught in the outfield. 72-3.

At lunch I decided for the first time during the test match to leave the confines of the Gabba during the day’s play. The previous day I had heard 2 Aussies separately talking about the “German club”. I was intrigued….

The German club is on the wonderfully named Vulture Street and was established in 1883. It’s Queensland’s oldest ethnic club. It was rammed with cricket fans. I entered through the side door and after a bit of form filling I was given a yellow wristband which gave me a day membership. There was an extensive bar and after walking through that I entered a huge room with trestle tables which was reminiscent of a German bierkeller. At one end there was a big screen showing the cricket and to the side food was available. One of the aussie guys from the previous day recommended the “pork knuckles” to me. They were the most expensive item on the menu but I decided to give the “knuckles” a go. My narrative skills can’t really do them justice but look at the photo. They are massive! Pork, crackling accompanied by veg, sauerkraut, mash, gravy the works! The pork was incredibly tasty but eventually I had to admit defeat. I went to the bar and ordered a pint of lowenbrau from the beer menu. This place was a German beer drinkers paradise. I picked a seat near the big screen and settled down to watch the start of the afternoon session. Two guys came over. They had watched me tucking in to the pork knuckle and eventually giving in and had obviously had a bit of a laugh at my expense. One of the guys was originally from Hull and had moved out here in 1982 “to escape from Thatcher”. He gave me the name of a pub to go to in Melbourne.

i exited the German club. On my way out I noticed there was a wooden panel inscribed with the names of former club presidents. The list had paused in 1939 and then resumed in 1952. Am sure there is a story out there somewhere about what happened to the Brisbane Germans during WWII.

i returned to my seat in the gabba. After the size of my lunch and a strong pint of German beer I half expected to fall asleep during the afternoon session. Not a chance! Dark clouds loomed overhead. The ground staff readied themselves. it started raining  the players left the field and the pitch was covered. An amazing electrical storm then unfolded. The crowd were advised to “follow instructions from the Gabba staff and seek shelter from exposed areas of the venue”. hailstones, lightning, thunder… It was an amazing storm. One clap of thunder overhead was the loudest thing I have ever heard. The storm lasted around half an hour. it took the groundstaff around an hour to mop up before play resumed. After play restarted there was another England batting collapse. Captain Cook was out for 65 quickly followed by Prior, Broad and Swann.

After another rain interruption play resumed. It was getting feisty out there. Lots of hostile short pitched bowling mainly from Mitchell Johnson. Verbal intimidation ie sledging was clearly going on. Yorkshire’s joe root was taking the brunt of the sledging and short balls but was standing up well to it. Tremlett was then out bringing the last batsmen Jimmy Anderson to the crease. Jimmy took exception to something said to him by one of the Aussies and called an umpire over. According to today’s press reports it was something along the lines of “get ready for a f**king broken arm”. Soon after this Jimmy was out and the Aussies had won. Scenes of wild jubilation. It was their first test victory since January and to go one up in the series is a massive psychological boost. England have massively underperformed and struggled against the pace of Mitchell Johnson on a typical bouncy Gabba pitch.

I sat and watched the presentation ceremony and then said farewells. For each days play I have sat with Barbara, Martin and Lauren from Surrey and Eric and Sue from North Devon. I have enjoyed their company and I hope my 3 day pursuit of a Barnsley flag has been too much of a distraction from the cricket. Eric and Sue are thatched roofers! So if you need your thatched roof maintaining then check out http://www.puffett-masterthatcher.co.uk.

I am in Brisbane for 3 more days before flying out to Alice Springs on Thursday to watch a two day practice match. England have a lot to sort out!

Front entrance of the German club

Front entrance of the German club

Pork knuckles!

Pork knuckles!

The German club main room

The German club main room

The height of the electrical storm

The height of the electrical storm

Pools of water after the storm

Pools of water after the storm

ashes first test day 3 – finding Keeley!

Before I travelled out my mate Rob set me a challenge. His ex boss Keeley was going to be out in Brisbane and attending the test match with her husband. I don’t know Keeley and rob gave the briefest of descriptions. “A top Barnsley lass who likes a pint of cider. She is taking a st George’s flag saying Barnsley Kes”. Kes is a film set in Barnsley that was made in 1969 and was directed by Ken Loach. It’s ranked seventh in the British Film Institute’s top 10 British films. Barnsley folk are very proud of it.

the Gabba is a big stadium. It holds 42,000 people. So finding Keeley was going to be a challenge….

on day 1 I scoured the English flags in the stadium but didn’t see any Barnsley one’s. I upped the ante on day 2. I wore a Barnsley shirt. I borrowed binoculars from a fellow England supporter. But no joy. I got back in touch with rob to ask for more information. None was forthcoming…..

during the morning session on day 3 I glanced to my left. There was the flag! It was only 2 sections away. I headed over there. Now finding the flag was one thing. Finding Keeley was quite another. No one sat near it knew who’s it was. I asked a female steward if she knew. She described Keeley to me. Black curly hair wearing a printed top. She wasn’t sure exactly whereabouts she was siting though. I looked around no sign of her. I left my mobile number with the steward in case Keeley appeared. She may have nipped off for a cider… Just as I was about to return to my seat the steward spotted Keeley. I headed over and tapped her on the shoulder and said “hi! Are you Keeley?” “yes who are you?” After introductions she worked out who I was! a top lass and I enjoyed meeting her and her husband. They were out in oz for his 50th and had only flown in the day before. This was the only day of test match cricket they were attending. about 10 minutes after I met Keeley, another bloke tapped her on the shoulder. “Are you Keeley?” Another guy who had spotted the flag from the other end of the stadium had come over. He was a relative of one of their neighbours

My first view of the Barnsley Kes flag.

My first view of the Barnsley Kes flag.

The flag close up

The flag close up

Keeley, daughter Chris and me

Keeley, daughter Chris and me

back in Worsborough Bridge…

anyway back to the cricket… Another bad day at the office for England. two aussie batsmen got centuries – Warner and Clarke. Haddin got another 50. Australia declared at 401-7. England lost 2 wickets before close of play. Carberry was unlucky but Trott played a silly shot to Johnson and appears to be losing the plot. England appear to be in disarray. England require to score a test record highest ever fourth innings score to win. Only another 536 runs needed over the last 2 days. At this rate the ashes could be lost by Perth….

ashes – first test day 2. What a difference a day makes…..

day 1 of the Ashes belonged to England. The Australian papers were pretty scathing about the performance of their team. The local Brisbane paper is the Courier Mail. It’s a pretty trashy tabloid and one headline directed at the Aussie team was “what the F do you call that?” Their English Bête noire is Stuart Broad. This all dates back to the ashes series in the summer when he refused to walk after clearly edging the ball. This was judged by many, and me, not to be in accordance with the spirit of cricket…. They have declared that they will refuse to mention Broad by name and he is referred to in the paper as “the 27 year old medium pacer”. Yesterday’s’ front page, shown here, is hilarious with Broad being airbrushed out of a photo celebrating a wicket…

i met some Aussies guys from Melbourne in the hotel lift who were making their way up to the Gabba. I walked up their with them. All the Aussies I have met and chatted to on this trip so far have been incredibly friendly and thus far very complimentary about the quality of this England team. These guys were great and our conversations on the way up ranged from the difference in the architecture of houses in brisbane compared to Melbourne and the resilience of the Aussie economy to the financial crisis.

I took my Barmy army songbook to the cricket as I thought it may come in handy….   I have to confess that I am a fully paid up Barmy Army member but took a decision, which I now consider very wise, not to sit with them. their support for the England team is fantastic but I reckon the noise and antics if sat with them might be a bit much….

whilst the Barmy army have a full repertoire of songs the Aussies seem to be very limited….. All I have heard so far is “Broady is a w***er” or “KP is a w***er”.

England quickly rattled through the remaining Aussie batsmen. 295 all out.

the England innings got underway. They started off ok. The Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson has a reputation for being very quick but erratic. The Barmy army have given him real stick in the past and seem to have got under his skin with a couple of songs just for him…. Johnson’s first 3 overs went for 15 and he looked to be all over the place. I could hear the Barmy army singing “he bowls to the left. He bowls to the right. That Mitchell Johnson his bowling is sh**e”.

englands captain Alastair Cook was out for 13. Then just before lunch Johnson struck getting out Trott who inexplicably played at a shot down leg side. Lunch was taken with england 55-2.

The afternoon session started with Carberry and pietersen at the crease. Batting seemed pretty comfortable.  Then pietersen got out flicking a ball from Harris straight  to Bailey. 82-3. What then followed was a massive shock…. The Aussie spinner Nathan Lyon came on and Carberry couldn’t score against him. He got totally bogged down and in his frustration was the next wicket. 87-4. All hell then broke lose. In quick succession Bell, Prior, Root and Swann were out. The Aussies around me were jubilant. A couple held up figurines of the ashes. 91-8. It was incredibly dramatic. England’s worst collapse for 23 years! Eventually England were all out for 136. It was inexplicable. The Aussies bowled well. Johnson finished with 4 wickets. England’s performance showed poor judgement and a lack of character. It seems a decent pitch as the Aussies reaching 65-0 with out trouble at the close of play showed.

england’s only hope of rescuing this test is the weather. It’s cloudy early Saturday morning and thunderstorms are forecast later today.

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The ashes starts!

I woke early, wide awake at 5.30am!

buoyed after FaceTime with Daniel and my sister I devoured a hearty hotel breakfast.

my challenge before start of play was to collect the tickets from the travel company who had supplied them. I had a 8.30 am appointment at the Mercure hotel with Adam Hollioake. For those unfamiliar, Adam is a former cricketer. He captained both Surrey and also England in one day internationals. I was quite excited at the prospect of meeting him…. I got a taxi into Central Brisbane and arrived at the hotel at 8.25. I was a bit disconcerted to find the reception area where we were due to meet was deserted and a total absence of fellow ticket hunters…. Certainly no sign of Adam….. At 8.45 I was starting to worry…. I had no contact details for Adam but tried the phone number in the uk for the travel company. No answer of course as I was outside office hours! I asked reception if he was staying at the Mercure. He was but was not in when I tried to call his room… Was my dream of going to the ashes up in smoke? Was the tour company supplying the tickets a scam??

At 9am Adam arrived! He had been up at the cricket ground doing radio and he had the tickets! We walked around Brisbane for a while as Adam tried to find a bus that would get me to the Gabba. Adam was a very amiable chap but confessed that administration – eg doling out tickets and finding transport was not his strong point. After he failed to find the right bus stop he took me back to hotel and organised a taxi for me. Adam was born in Oz and now lives on the Gold Coast. he sounded like an Aussie and a bit of a wheeler dealer. I was invited back for drinks at the hotel with him and other cricket tourists after close of play.

I arrived at the Gabba at around 9.45, 15 minutes before start of play. The atmosphere was electric and the ground was big! It holds around 40,000 and was pretty full. Plenty of England fans but outnumbered by Aussies – i would estimate the ratio is around 3-1.

i have England fans on either side of me. To the left a couple from Devon who had won their trip to Brisbane in a competition. all they had to do was text the word “cricket” to one of those 5 digit numbers. I always thought those competitions were a scam but here is the proof they arent! To my right a couple from Surrey who are on holiday with their daughter. They also got their tickets through Adam and we swapped our anecdotes about him…

I wont go into too much detail about the cricket as I know everyone reading this will not necessarily be a fan….. It was England’s day! Australia batted and at close of play were 273-8. Stuart broad, who the Aussie fans and newspapers really dislike, took 5 wickets and the Australians were rescued by lower order batters Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson.

an enjoyable day. Time flew by! At close of play the jet lag was kicking in.  So I declined the offer from Adam and headed back to my hotel….

National anthems before play

National anthems before play

My excellent view of the action

My excellent view of the action

The amazing flying camera....

The amazing flying camera….

Floodlights on at close of play

Floodlights on at close of play

 

 

 

 

Arrival in Australia

A view of the Gabba pitch

A view of the Gabba pitch

A fan being interviewed by the bbc

A fan being interviewed by the bbc

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My home for the next 8 days

My home for the next 8 days

Brisbane old and new

Brisbane old and new

The view from the ferry

The view from the ferry

My room with a view

My room with a view

Brisbane skyline shot

Brisbane skyline shot

David Warner getting batting practice

David Warner getting batting practice

So I am here safe and sound in Brisbane!

I struggle to sleep on planes and probably managed 2 hours sleep max in a journey that involved travelling through both Monday and Tuesday night. I passed the time through watching in flight movies, listening to music and reading a biography about James Hunt. I can highly recommend the inflight entertainment on Emirates flights.The journey out here involved 2 flights. 7 hours through the night from Manchester to Dubai and then after a scheduled 3 hour wait at dubai airport a 14 hour flight to Brisbane. The flights all went smoothly and were pretty uneventful. In fact the most memorable thing that happened was when the stewardess somehow managed to drop my in flight meal in my lap and over her whilst transferring it to my tray table. There was Chinese beef and rice everywhere! She was very apologetic and after getting the mess cleaned up I relaxed and told her not to worry about it.

So I arrived here somewhat sleep deprived!

The flight landed at around 7am and when I got to the hotel it was far too early to check in. The staff here are great and provided me with the facilities to shower and look after my bags. The room is fine, the food is good (but pricy!) and they provide free wifi so this will be a good place to stay for the next 8 nights.

It’s close to the Gabba so I wandered down there to see if there was much going on. I walked all the way round and found towards the end of my circuit the Aussie batsmen having a net with a number of cricket fans – mainly English watching on. I asked an older Aussie guy next to me to help me in identifying the Aussie batters. BBC sport were asking some of the fans for TV interviews. I deliberately kept a low profile! After watching the net for a while I left the Gabba and walked back towards Brisbane. My hotel is in an area called Kangaroo Point ( none spotted yet!) and there is a free ferry that criss crosses the river. I caught that and took a walk through part of the central district. What strikes you is how new the city seems. There are loads of tall skyscrapers  which totally dominate the skyline and dwarf the older colonial style buildings.

i didn’t stay in the centre long as I was getting hungry and needed to check into my room and catch some sleep!

i write this having had around 4 hours sleep this afternoon and feeling much fresher!

so the ashes start tomorrow and I am starting to feel really excited!

Leaving Thoughts…..

My Dad has an expression for his pre travel state of mind. He calls it “travel proud”. I don’t know where this phrase comes from it’s probably come down the generations of Hunt’s. Dad tends to exhibit his “travel proudness” state of mind by a slightly increased level of tetchiness…

as one of life’s worriers with some mild OCD tendencies my state of “travel proudness” is currently focused on house security and ensuring that I don’t forget anything. I have a long long flight ahead which I am not looking forward to. Will my bag exceed the weight limit? I am trying to travel light but this is a challenge for me when going away for a weekend never mind for 11 weeks!

the last few days have been emotional…. I have had some great send offs from friends, family and ex work colleagues. Everyone has been incredibly generous with gifts and good wishes. My trip has become a really big deal and I owe it to everyone to ensure I enjoy it to the maximum. 

Saying goodbye to family has been particularly hard and there have been a few tears shed….. I will really miss them. It will be the longest time I have had apart from my son Daniel and this will be a big wrench. We will be embracing modern communication to keep in touch though FaceTime.

so the next time you read my blog I will be in Brisbane. It’s very autumnal here today in Darton and I can’t wait for the move to warmer climes….

bye for nowImage