December 16, 2013

Touring, who doesn't love it?

Matt Cleary
Ability to make cheapo convict jokes: priceless  © Getty Images
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While idly couch-surfing TV channels the other day, I came across The Sound of Music. And there on my flat screen were the von Trapp children and their maid Greta, singing about their favourite things. There were soft fuzzy mittens and whiskers on kittens, and brown-paper packages tied up with string that were chockfull of methamphetamine hydrochloride, the drug commonly known as "ice" - though I made it up. It was The Sound of Music - Director's Cut: Fear and Loathing in Saltzburg. No it wasn't.

Whatever. I didn't last long with it, for so annoying were the von Trapp family (especially the little one) that they were marked for death by hit squads and hunted throughout the hills of Switzerland. And they were never heard from again. The end.

Now, while the von Trapps' favourite things are great - crisp apple strudel and schnitzel with noodles, you betcha - watching the film got me thinking about cricket, and cricket's place among my favourite things. For along with Jessica Alba, Boardwalk Empire, Anzac Day, the thoroughbred Super Impose, Barnbougle Dunes (a Tasmanian golf course), the WS Cox Plate (a horse race), drink holders in golf carts, Dennis Lillee, oysters, Darth Vader, Pulp Fiction and Coopers Pale Ale, cricket occupies several spots in my Top 50 Favourite Things.

And right up there in the top ten is cricket touring. And I don't mean just following the Australian team around Africa, India or the islands of the Caribbean, though these are unquestionably fine activities. But actually playing against cricket teams in other countries, friend, these are seriously good times.

Good? Cricket tours are so good someone made a movie about blokes who made a movie about one. In 2001, Melbourne clubbies the Abbotsford Anglers went to India in stripy blazers and baggy caps, and made a doco called Save Your Legs, which would be sold in video shops if such things existed. Actor man Brendan Cowell then wrote a screenplay and made Save Your Legs!, a movie based on the trip that one review said is "a wonderfully unexpected delight", another said is a "fish-out-of-water travelogue… predictably embracing that old chestnut about what Indian food can do to a white person's digestive system", and my mate Henry said was "more boring than death".

Touring? A cricket tour is a month or so playing the great game, enjoying fine times with like-minded types and meeting - and possibly rubbing against in a mutually pleasing fashion - people from other countries. On a tour of England you can throw in beating the crap out of the Old Enemy.

Because while the Poms are generally good fun geezers who enjoy beer, singing and gibbering in pubs - and who, oh, you know, invented cricket - beating them still very much tickles the cockles of our wild colonial hearts. Odd, perhaps. But there it is.

Enter The Wattlesprigs, a bunch of cricket heads from the Victorian town of Shepparton who since 1983 have toured England in conjunction with the Ashes. In tour groups of players and social tourists they take on local teams on village "greens" in the shadows of ancient castles. They empty village pubs of beer. And they try to beat the crap out of teams who include the Barmy Army and Shepparton of Surrey. And they take on anyone who wants a hit, of any standard.

I've written about these Wattlesprigs over the years and the boys want me to go on tour, so I might document their trip in various journals, and so drum up interest in what they hope will be an ongoing concern, with tours elsewhere. They don't profit; leftover coin goes on the bar and into the next tour.

Yet, for the moment, it's probably moot. My wife's favourite things don't include looking after three little ones while her husband goes on a 25-day cricket tour of England. So I won't enjoy: functions in full formal kit; being ferried about in a coach to stay in four-star digs; living it large with our top Aussie dollar; and enjoying the life of a cricket troubadour.

I would urge you to, however. Get in touch with them.

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Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

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