Right now is a brief and wonderful phase of the cricket season where the best is yet to come, there’s plenty already to reflect on and every performance in domestic cricket feels as fresh as the new grass of spring. Which it still most definitely is. (For a few days yet at least.)
In my town of Hobart there’s been snow on the mountain this week and day temperatures have been barely reaching double figures. That (not reaching double figures) can dull the enjoyment of a batter, as well as a cricket spectator, but the upside is that the ever lengthening days have brought with it an increasing amount of cricket to absorb.
Last week at Blundstone arena it was great to be back behind the microphone at what, at times in my life, has felt like a summer home. And at this time of year Sheffield Shield cricket has a special kind of magic, despite the vagaries of this cold and wet spring. The game against South Australia was only half completed because of rain but it served its usual purpose. Great competition for a storied and cherished prize (the shield itself) with stories and faces old and new everywhere. Some careers blossoming too; the SA opener Henry Hunt turned a lot of heads with his patient and stylish 134. Test candidate Travis Head made just 14 as he tried to outbid Usman Khawaja for the vacant number 5 spot in the Ashes’ starting eleven. His promising start was undone by a peach of a delivery from Tasmanian newcomer Lawrence Neil-Smith who might not be on any amateur selectors Ashes’ team yet but is a player with a bright future.
Performances and games intersect at this time and the job of the broadcaster is to try and weave the whole story together with a flourish of drama here and a dash of biographical detail there. A shield game might include a veteran trying to eke one last performance from his waning powers alongside the up and comers such as Hunt and Neil-Smith. It’s cricket’s way of sorting wheat from chaff.
In about six weeks the height of the season proper will be in full swing, the weather (presumably) will be hotter, the players a little more tired and the big bash machine will be in overdrive in stadia around the country. And by mid-January the men’s Ashes will probably have been decided.
As someone once said, ‘A long hot summer soon passes by’ but there’s no need to wish the arrival of the major matches of the summer (or Christmas decorations for that matter) any faster than they need be. The days are still stretching out and there’s some magic of anticipation in the spring air … unless you’re a batter who, like the Hobart temperatures, can only just make it into double figures.
Peter Newlinds is the author of Around the Grounds