October 10, 2013

A day at Adelaide Oval

Australia v South Africa was so enticing that one spectator played hooky to be at the first day of the 2001 Test

How can one resist? © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

I've seen just one day of Test cricket in Adelaide. It was memorable in many respects: first, the cricket, where a tough, well-contested day saw Australia finish at 272 for 6 against South Africa in the first Test of the 2001-2002 series, and second, because it took some elaborate hooky-playing to get me to the ground.

A few months previously, sitting in my university office in Sydney, I noticed that the dates for the opening Test overlapped with those for the Australian Conference on Artificial Intelligence, which was being held in Adelaide that year. How convenient. I quickly ran over to my colleague's office and asked him if he would want to submit our joint paper - "Postdiction Problems in Dynamic Logic" no less! - to the conference.

He, a post-doctoral fellow like me, agreed; our paper had been in progress for a while, we had already presented it at a workshop, it had received critical feedback from a number of interested readers, and now looked ready for prime time. We went over its technical details again, cleaned it up, formatted it in the conference's required style, and sent it off to the conference referees, fingers firmly crossed. My colleague was not a cricket fan; he harboured no suspicions whatsoever about the actual motives for my desire to submit a paper to the national AI conference.

In a few weeks we heard back from the referees. Our paper had been accepted. The next step was to apply for travel and lodging funds from our department and the university. Forms were filled out, signatures obtained, t's crossed, and i's dotted, flight tickets purchased, hotels booked. Then, suddenly, a wave of panic swept over me. What if the conference organisers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to schedule our presentation for December 14, the first day of the Test and the last day of the conference? I could ask my co-author to do the talk, but there was no way I couldn't also be present for the questions that would follow.

There was only one thing to do: lie and beg. I immediately called the organisers to plead my case. It was simple enough: I had to fly back to Sydney on the 14th; the vagaries of Qantas flight schedules and all sorts of booking hassles made it so. There was simply no way that I could present the paper on the 14th. Would the organisers do me the courtesy of scheduling the talk for, say, the 12th, or the 13th of December? The harried conference organiser, already juggling the logistics of a large event, sighed, but said that he would look into it. A week later we received the conference programme. Our talk was scheduled for the 13th.

The bar on the Adelaide Hill is the only one I've seen at Australian grounds that had a sign proudly noting its single-day sales record

And so it came to be that on the 14th, a successful conference presentation under my belt, I headed to Adelaide Oval - at a walking distance from our hotel - with my fellow cricket fans. All of them were academics; the idea of submitting a paper to this conference had been suitably transmitted to them as well.

Our group included a German professor who we had talked into coming along for what we promised him would be a singular experience. We got there a little too early for I had been nervous about not finding good seats in the general admission section; the first photograph of the day shows us sipping beers with the clock showing 9:40am in the background.

The cricket that day was tough and hard. South Africa fought well; the runs didn't come easily and Justin Langer had to battle his way to a tough ton. The beers went down easily on a hot day, not just for me but for everyone on Adelaide Hill. As the day wore on, things got out of hand. South Africa's fielders copped all sorts of spray; even I joined in the fun, using some of the Afrikaans I had picked up on my trip to South Africa the month before; South African fans copped it even worse.

But the worst treatment was reserved for the women, no matter what nationality they were. Not only did they get catcalls, hoots, and hollers, they were subjected to beer glasses and a bit of shoving as well. It was all a bit much and I wondered what Cricket Australia would make of it. (Interestingly, the bar on Adelaide Hill is the only one I've seen at Australian grounds that had a sign proudly noting its single-day sales record, apparently achieved during a Australia-New Zealand one-day international a few years previously). But all in all, it was an enjoyable day, marred only by the less-than-perfect day that our German friend had had: he had not been an instant convert to the game, and his pained expression said it all. 

The cricket for me didn't end with the day's play. I had a game to play the next day in Sydney, for my team in the Northern Sydney league, and I had made arrangements to be picked up at the airport by my team-mate, our fast bowler, so that I could get to the ground in time. The flight was on time, as was my team-mate. Twenty-four hours after watching Australia play South Africa in a Test in Adelaide, I was playing cricket myself in North Sydney. It all felt like a bit of a dream. It still does.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here