August 13, 2012

Hey, there's a World Cup on

But rugby and the Olympics are what everybody's taking about in Australia

August 6
Changi airport. Singapore. Four gargantuan television screens are arranged in a square. The couches in front of three are virtually empty. Those in front of the fourth are full, with a crowd behind waiting for the potatoes to budge. Few do. That television is showing the Olympics. Some passengers are wearing Team Great Britain tees and carrying similar bags. They gape as Lawrence Okoye's first throw of the discus is a shambles; they cheer when his third is more than 65 metres. Lots of Australian accents are heard, but no Team Australia clothing to be seen. Not much to cheer about, says a half-Aussie lady on the flight. She's also half-Kiwi. Three gold medals to Australia's two.

August 7
Brisbane International Airport. Sniffed by a labrador searching for drugs. Sniffed by a beagle ferreting out bio-stuff: foreign food and the like. Think someone's M&Ms are smelt out. Australia is careful about what enters its island borders. "Have you been in a freshwater body in a foreign land in the recent past", they ask, to safeguard their aquatic ecosystem. It makes sense. There were once few rabbits in Australia, until one Thomas Austin introduced 12 pairs on his Victoria farm because he liked to hunt. Their descendants have cost the country's agriculture millions.

My first time in the southern hemisphere. Keep eyes peeled for the Coriolis effect. The Brisbane sky is an uninterrupted blue from horizon to horizon. Light from the 8am sun drapes everything in gold. Queensland is the sunshine state. The half-moon is visible too.

August 7
Few people in Brisbane know their state is hosting the Under-19 World Cup. Fewer at the University of Queensland know South Africa and New Zealand are playing a warm-up in their backyard - at the WEP Harris Oval.

One South African batsman is told by match referee David Boon that a sticker on the back of his bat has to be removed. Boy scurries away when Ray Jennings and Boon begin quipping about fines.

Chat with dreadlocked Cam Neyens, brother of New Zealand allrounder Connor. Cam says the cost of Australia's medals in London is an eye-popping $10 million each. Is national pride worth the investment? See students cycling, running, rowing and playing various sports around campus. Makes it worth it, I think.

August 8
Look at road signs through jet-lagged eyes while traversing the city to find tiny grounds at which the U-19s are playing practice matches: Wynnum Road, Tingalpa, Seven Hills, Coorparoo, Vulture Street. Bell rings. Vulture Street End. Spot the Gabbatoir. Wonder if there's a tour, but it will have to wait.

Former batsman Stuart Williams is part of the West Indian management team. He played a part in one of my favourite one-dayers: leaping on the square-leg boundary to intercept what would have been a winning six from Hashan Tillakaratne. Smiles as he remembers the game. It's always underrated when listing great ODIs.

West Indies coach Roddy Estwick yells. Sounds like he wants the wicketkeeper to wear a helmet if he's standing up to the medium-pacer. Wicketkeeper drops back several yards instead. A couple of balls later, the bails fly as the Namibian batsman is bowled.

Take the City Cat, a catamaran ferry on the Brisbane River. Along its banks, houses give way to apartments that give way to skyscrapers in the City. Glorious sunset on the water. During the walk from New Farm jetty to the guesthouse, spot a couple of "Have your say" signs that propose replacing parkland with construction. Wonder what the residents want.

August 9
The papers are filled with stories and photos of Queensland's golden girls. Overnight, hurdler Sally Pearson and track cyclist Anna Meares have taken Australia's gold-medal count in London to five. Pearson moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast when she was eight and did all her training there. Meares was born in the mining town of Blackwater, which, in the last census, had a population of just over 5000. Few people are talking about them, though. Not on the bus, not in cafés, and not on the streets. Suspect the overall disappointment at the Olympics is overwhelming the success coming through in the latter half of the Games. Haven't seen the U-19 World Cup in the papers yet.

August 10
Leave Brisbane before an impression of the city is formed. Not experienced it enough, apart from using the public transport extensively and seeing cricket fields and quaint Queenslander houses - wooden, pastel-coloured, with plants all around. Leave the city as I arrived, on a cloudless early morning. See lots of cyclists riding the sloping, wide and smooth roads. Like it a little more now.

Townsville is smaller. Very few multi-storey buildings. More backpackers, travelling the Queensland coast and through the bush. More indigenous Australians; can't remember noticing any in Brisbane. More advertisements for scuba-diving, snorkelling and walks through the rainforest. More warnings about creatures that can cause grievous bodily harm to the careless.

August 11
Day one of the World Cup. Four-dollar bus ride to the Tony Ireland Stadium in Thuringowa, on the outskirts of Townsville. The ground is big and beautiful, circled by grass banks, trees and hills. The pitch is quick too. Daniel Bell-Drummond hugs his dad after making a duck; Reece Topley breaks a middle stump. Notice how effortlessly the Australia and England players are fielding in tandem at such a young age. Get locked inside the stadium and miss the last bus back to the city after staying too late in the press area. Cab driver comes to the rescue. Tells of how he drove Andrew Symonds from the airport to his house in the city. Apparently Symonds has a crew-cut now and wants to go fishing on the reef on Thursday. Ride costs $50.

August 12
There is no bus from the city that reaches Thuringowa before 9am on a Sunday. The first one gets there 11 minutes past the hour, after the India-West Indies toss. Most people on the bus are talking about how the Cowboys thrashed the Warriors 52-12 last night. Rugby League. Everyone wants to talk about it.

One lady asks to be let off the bus where there's no stop. Driver obliges. Soon after, a young man asks for the same favour. "She was going to church," the driver says. "What's your reason?" Man says he's going to work. Driver stops again. Last bus back to the city is at 5pm on a Sunday. Don't attempt to catch it. Have been assured the transport is better during the week.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohit on August 15, 2012, 9:32 GMT i said it was an honest mistake. glad to know more about Oz.@george....keep em coming mate!

  • Andrew on August 15, 2012, 4:13 GMT

    @India_boy - good on you for admitting when wrong, not many people do on this site. Sorry to pick on you, but I quite like a foreigners perspective on Oz, & if you have a look - most tours have a reporter doing a tour diary. I really liked the Indian tour diary on India's visit to Oz. == == == @George Binoy "...More warnings about creatures that can cause grievous bodily harm to the careless..." beware of the Dropbears!

  • Mohit on August 14, 2012, 5:24 GMT

    my bad...I completely accept my mistake and apologise, because I had read somewhere that Cricket isn't much watched and followed in Australia. What my original point was that the article completely deviated from U-19 WC to background of medal winners in olympics. @ashwin and Dashgar...I know its a tour diary and I just love reading about other countries while their tours are on but Aus is such a vast land with so much of cricket heritage! its like some tourney is going on in India and they are blabbering about deepika kumari and vijender singh. When it's cricket, talk about Cricket! simple as that!

  • Chris on August 14, 2012, 4:55 GMT

    Lucky enough to have pay TV and have been watching the tournament at home in South Australia. The standard from all teams have been very good IMO. North Queenslanders are a rare breed, very different from the rest of Oz (think Hayden, Symonds, Healy..) but Oz non the less. They live and breathe rugby League up there. The pitches should be hard, you should see plenty of swing and from what ive seen so far, also some very good cricket. Liked the article, always enlightening to hear what "outsiders" think of ones own patch.

  • Tim on August 13, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    @India boy, what does the UK have to do with Australia? Cricket is more popular than soccer, if by a lesser margin than it used to be. And this isn't a news article, it's a tour diary. He wants to let you into the world of the cricket journalist following a youth world cup in a foreign land.

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2012, 16:25 GMT

    official audience data shows that 93.6% of Australians watched at least some cricket on TV in 2010-11 calendar year, the highest penetration of any sport in Australia. Hope, that satisfies you enough.!

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2012, 16:24 GMT

    @india-boy. Yeah, surely Cricket features in the top 2 sports around the country, infact Unlike most other sports played in Australia, cricket generates equal interest in all states of the nation.

    A census conducted on behalf of Cricket Australia found that in the 2010-11 season there were 850,155 professional participants in Australian cricket programs and competitions, putting Australia's national game ahead of all the football codes and other popular sports such as golf and bowls.

  • Ashwin on August 13, 2012, 15:36 GMT

    India boy - you certainly are a confused one. Cricket, as I'm hoping you're aware, is a summer sport and by extension enjoys consistent support during the summer months in Australia (October-February). I've been there during the summer and it probably is the most popular sport during the summer. The scenario is similar in the UK - cricket enjoys plenty of popularity during the summer. Case in point - I was at a packed Day 5 at Lord's when England played West Indies, heck even when Bangladesh played Tests two years ago every day was virtually sold out. I'll also go as far as saying that, despite a marquee event such as the Olympics running at the same time, the England vs. South Africa matches had been sold out months in advance. When Sachin went past Lara - there was hardly anyone at the stadium, in India, despite the momentous occasion for the much loved batsman. Secondly, this article is a tour diary. So if you were expecting otherwise - please hit the back button on your browser

  • Mohit on August 13, 2012, 13:34 GMT

    @Teece, u mean more popular than Aussie Rules, Soccer and Rugby? I dont think so(from what I have read mostly). I'd be delighted to be proved wrong. My point was that cricket articles should concentrate more on cricket. Do you think when the journals in UK are reporting about Chelsea-Man City face-off, they would give even a fleeting mention to the current Eng-SA series (even though it has been billed as the most anticipated series in a long time) ?

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    come on icc !! lets make more countries play and encourage cricket ! Bring on more countries. give 16 countries to play test cricket in odi and t20... let globalize cricket..encourage asia cup, africa cup, europe cup etc by participating more countries..let under 19 teams of australia india pakistan sout africa etc go four playng tour matches with afgan nepal uae canada and oter develing countries national teams..

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