International cricket comes to Geelong February 14, 2017

Cricket's banner flies down at Kardinia Park

Geelong is about to become just the second non-capital city to host a full international featuring Australia, and this may be just the start
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"We played a Renegades v Stars practice game the year before last, and we got 12,000 people - when only half the stands were available" © Getty Images

Ask the average cricket fan in six weeks' time who won this T20 series between Australia and Sri Lanka and they'll likely have forgotten. Ask them in six months and they may not remember the matches ever happened. And yet this series is momentous - not only because Australia are fielding two teams in two countries almost simultaneously. It is significant also because cricket is taking a rare detour into regional Australia.

Geelong is not exactly beyond the black stump - it is only an hour's drive from Melbourne and boasts a population of nearly 200,000 - but it is the gateway to the farming districts of south-west Victoria. That one of its landmarks is the National Wool Museum tells you that you've left the big smoke. And this Sunday, Geelong will become just the second non-capital city to host a full international featuring Australia.

The only other city to have done so is Cairns, which hosted top-end matches in 2003 and 2004 during the southern winter. In a home summer, only the six state capitals plus Canberra have ever hosted Australia's men's team. But Geelong, home to one of the oldest and most loyally-supported AFL teams, start and end point for cycling's Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, now gets its chance to host international cricket.

In order to meet ICC standards for the size of the playing area, the pitch orientation at Kardinia Park - aka Simonds Stadium - has been altered to slightly off-square. The ground had a taste of elite cricket last summer when it hosted a warm-up BBL match between the Melbourne Stars and Melbourne Renegades, and then a two-day practice game between West Indies and a Victoria XI ahead of the Boxing Day Test.

And if the city is not excited enough at the prospect of hosting international cricket, the absence of the captain Steven Smith and his deputy David Warner, who are in the UAE preparing for the Test tour of India, means Australia will be led in this match by Aaron Finch, a loyal member of the Geelong Cricket Club. Finch grew up in the nearby country town of Colac, and from his early teenage years has been playing for Geelong.

"It's something that I'm really proud of, to get the opportunity to captain Australia, but to get to do it in front of my home fans and friends and club team-mates," Finch told ESPNcricinfo. "There have been a lot of people in that area who have helped my cricket a huge amount over my career. I'm sure it will sink in a bit more on the day, but it's something that I'm very proud of and grateful for.

"The amount of work that so many people do to try and attract the biggest and best events to the area is huge. I think this is just a small reward for that. The footy club has been unbelievably successful over the last 15 years, on and off the field ... No matter what sport comes to the area, people come out and support it. I think it'll be a huge boost for the area, but also I think the game will finally realise that Geelong is a fair dinkum place for cricket."

And perhaps this is just the start for Geelong - and regional Australia in general. The venue has a pair of useful allies in the chief executive James Sutherland, a Geelong Cats supporter, while the current chief of the Kardinia Park Trust is Sutherland's former second-in-command Michael Brown. The BBL will be expanded next summer to include an extra eight games, some of which are likely to be played outside the capital cities. Finch, who captains the Renegades, said he was looking forward to the prospect of Geelong potentially hosting a BBL match next year - and maybe even having its own side further down the track.

James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, also has a long association with Geelong © ICC

"We played a Renegades v Stars practice game the year before last, and we got 12,000 people to a practice game - when only half the stands were available, because they were in the renovation stage," he said. "To me that just goes to show that the people are going to come and support the best of whatever you provide ... I can guarantee you're packing out Simonds Stadium, every game.

"You see Sheffield Shield games get taken to regional areas more than anything else. I think with the way the landscape of cricket is changing, you see how many kids and families and women are coming to the game now and are new to cricket ... if you took a Big Bash game to Geelong, or to Wollongong or somewhere like that, I think you'd find the results would be enormous."

For the time being, Finch is thrilled to be the first man to captain Australia in an international match in Geelong. Although he now lives in Melbourne, he has never changed clubs, believing that he should give back to the Geelong club that gave him his start in elite cricket all those years ago.

And after being dropped from the ODI side in December, then recalled and made stand-in captain during the recent Chappell-Hadlee Series, Finch is just happy to be part of the national side. To be axed at the age of 30 leads naturally to self-doubt and wondering if your days as an international cricketer are over.

"That is the first thing that goes through your mind - when Trevor Hohns called me and said 'we're not picking you in this squad', I actually couldn't disagree with him," Finch said of being dropped in December. "I hadn't made many runs, so it was hard to see yourself getting back in there, especially when guys have been performing so well. Then a bit of luck goes your way and you end up captaining the side a couple of weeks later."

And now, he captains a T20 outfit missing Smith, Warner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Glenn Maxwell, among others, with the first Test in India due to begin the day after the final T20 in Adelaide. In their place are the likes of Ben Dunk, Michael Klinger, Ashton Turner, Tim Paine and Jhye Richardson.

"It's going to be interesting, I can't remember it happening in the past," Finch said. "The squad that's been picked in the T20s is still a fantastic squad. Any time that you take Warner, Smith, Starc, Maxwell, Hazlewood out of an Australian XI, it's always going to hurt slightly because they're some of the best in the world.

"But then you look at the guys who have been picked and it's hard not to see how they'll be very successful as well. They're coming off great Big Bash tournaments, which in my opinion is the toughest T20 competition to be successful in around the world, because the quality of cricket is exceptional."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cheguramana on February 18, 2017, 13:51 GMT

    If the amount of international cricket does not get rationalised, this is just the beginning, soon all countries wl have 2 or even 3 completely separate teams for different formats. And most matches wl lose all context and meaning- except perhaps the Test series.

  • Scott on February 14, 2017, 22:10 GMT

    Smudgeon - The Ballarat game wasn't washed out, it was the India/Sri Lanka game in Mackay that lasted an epic 2 balls. And we can't forget to include Albury on the list of international grounds, if for no other reason than because Zimbabwe beat England, and also Berri in Sth Aust., hosted a game during the 92 World Cup. Anyway, I hope Geelong works out as a venue, because it's really not a bad place to watch sport, even though I can't stand their AFL team.

  • smudgeon on February 14, 2017, 17:10 GMT

    TESTCRICROX, Tassie had ODIs at both Launceston and Devonport (WI vs Eng in 86 - they still talk about this up the coast!). I'm pretty sure the 92 world cup also had a game scheduled for Ballarat which was rained out before a ball was bowled. However, none of those games - inc. the Mackay fixture you mention - featured Australia which is the key point here. Says a lot about how the BBL has brought T20 cricket to the fore in Australia, when the national team plays somewhere like Geelong. Hoping they put on a good show.

  • TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on February 14, 2017, 13:25 GMT

    Never mind the quality feel the cash flow. No problem with taking cricket to the regions but with the mindless scheduling resulting in half the first-choice side being on another continent shouldn't this team be called Australia A? There must be a way to make a buck out of sending Aus C to Miami and Aus D to Hong Kong at the same time as well.

  • TestCricRox on February 14, 2017, 11:14 GMT

    did'nt Mackay in north australia host an india-SL world cup match in 1992 once? and also from memory - i think Lanceston in tasmania has also hosted an india one-dayer once, i think against NZ..... well, new venue-hope the locals come into enjoy the match...

  • Jono_M on February 14, 2017, 10:47 GMT

    @Keepcalm, Finch an underperformer? He averages 38 with a strike rate of 150 in T20 internationals. Warner averages 28 with a strike rate of 139. I'm not sure where you get your idea from that Finchy has underperformed, he has in fact been a stand out performer in the T20 side.

  • keepcalmandslaptheumpire on February 14, 2017, 7:36 GMT

    Sad part is Sri Lanka will probably still lose this series despite Finch being the most internationally recognised player when he was always an underperformer in the main side. Expect Klinger to be averaging 50-100 in T20I's after this series and then never called up again but just hope Sri Lanka bring their A game with their weakened team that is missing Mathews and hope that Malinga can still nail his yorkers.

  • dutchy on February 14, 2017, 7:27 GMT

    Good move - hope Geelong-ers turn out to support it

  • grandad113 on February 14, 2017, 7:13 GMT

    What use is it to introduce cricket to a new place without your top players and that too against probably the worst of the top 10 teams. It definitely would be inspiring though watching even your 3rd string team maul a top 8 team

  • Macca3861 on February 14, 2017, 6:43 GMT

    I reckon they would get huge crowds in Newcastle for a T20 international or a BBL game.

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