Australia v India, VB Series, 1st ODI, Melbourne January 9, 2004

Bring on the circus

Today at the Melbourne Cricket Ground it was time to put the emotional baggage back in the cupboard, forget the past, and get on with the show
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Steve Waugh, who's he?
© Getty Images

My mother supports the theory that pockets of grief should be followed by periods of celebration. In other words, wipe away the tears as soon as possible, and bring out the party pies. After the hard-fought Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test series, it seems reasonable advice. For those who haven't heard (and please explain under which rock you've been hiding), Stephen Waugh has finally taken his bat and ball and gone home. We've had the laps of honour, the standing ovations, and enough renditions of John Williamson's "Hey True Blue" to tire even the most nationalistic of Australians. For the last two months we've been put through the wringer, but, as I'm sure my mother would say, given the opportunity and the microphone, enough is enough.

Today at the Melbourne Cricket Ground it was time to put the emotional baggage back in the cupboard, forget the past, and get on with the show. That's the One-Day Show, to be precise. The VB Series opener between Australia and India was met with a sigh of collective relief from the 63,000 fans who streamed through the gates. As the players took the field in their coloured kit, and the punters brought the Mexican Wave out of its Testy mothballs, one thing was clear. This game wasn't about tradition, or history.

This encounter had little to do with statistics, sporting memories or reverential tributes. This was Melbourne's homage to pure, unadulterated, semi-irrelevant slapdashery. The music was louder, the raffle-ticket sellers were more persistent, and the kids were overly excited. It may have only been three days since the nation farewelled the boy from Bankstown, but there wasn't a red rag, tear-stained eye, or reflective glance in sight. And the punters relished it.

"I don't even really care who wins. We're just here for some fun," said Peter from Melbourne, as he tried, unsuccessfully, to talk his three-year-old daughter Meggy into getting her face painted green and gold. "Tugga is gone and good luck to him, but we've got to move on. We can't stand still can we?

"The game is bigger than one person," he added before Meggy led him away in the general direction of the doughnut stall. His friend Robert willingly took up the debating cudgels: "I was in Sydney, I've been through it all," he said. "I'll miss Steve. I've felt empty for days and I this is exactly what I need. It's almost like therapy. Bring on the circus."

As the Australian innings progressed, the mood in the outer went from upbeat to frenetic. Sitting in the top level of the towering and overpowering Great Southern Stand, Sally from Geelong was keen to add her theories for the reasons behind the atmosphere. She was also happy to display her handmade "Michael Clarke is a Superstar" banner. "We all know it's only limited-over rubbish, and that in a week's time we won't remember the scores, or who bowled what," she said. "But who cares? It's exactly what we want right now."

The "G" is packed, the weather is good, and it's the perfect opportunity for cricket without consequence. "Crikey, that's very deep, isn't it?" she laughed, placing her banner beneath the seat and heading for the bar. "I definitely need a beer."

By the time the lights came on and the Indian innings was under way, the MCG had turned into a paradise for flag-wavers, foot-stampers, and inflatable-finger-pointers. Australian and Indian supporters alike had taken to this limited-overs palaver as if Tests were an alien sporting concept, and that Steve Waugh bloke was just some old guy who used to bat a bit, and walked like Charlie Chaplin. "Is there any place better than this?" asked Ralph from Portland, yelling over the noise and gesturing towards the centre of the ground as if he'd personally overseen the preparation of the drop-in pitch. "I wouldn't be anywhere else on earth. I wouldn't be doing anything else on earth. Give me a close one-day game and I'm a happy man. If you could bottle this atmosphere you'd make a fortune."

When Australia took the final Indian wicket, to complete an 18-run victory that had looked unlikely a few overs before, the mood moved way past frenetic. As the Australian players hugged mid-pitch, and the Indian batsmen walked back to the dressing-rooms, the crowd began a continuous, thumping, clapping, arm-raising, jumping-out-of-the-seat cacophony. Even Portland Ralph (where's his brother Bill when you need him?) was impressed. "You forget how loud it can get," he mouthed above the din. "You forget how thrilling this one-day stuff can be."

Tonight at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, we also forgot to be sad. As my mother would no doubt suggest, it's difficult to cry when you're at a great party.

Christine Davey is a freelance journalist from Melbourne.