Ah, the first one-day international of the Australian summer! Time to dust off the hole-in-the-ozone-layer-deflecting hats. Time to test the endurance of the plus-30-factor sunscreen. Time to iron the singlet tops, shorts, and/or amusing costumes, and enter the stadium arguing about possible match-affecting weather patterns, while casting a glance at the unpredictable early-December skies. Yes, the first pyjama party of the long, hot season took place tonight in Melbourne.
It was the inaugural game of the newly-instigated Chappell-Hadlee Trophy between Australia and New Zealand. Players were donning red ribbons to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS. And boy, was the match hyped: Michael Clarke even strode to the crease wearing the No. 23 shirt handed to him earlier in the week by Shane Warne. The game itself was slapdash and wham-bam and took place at Melbourne's Telstra Dome. Under a closed roof.
That's right. There was little need for the hats and sun-screen, and even less requirement for climatic investigations or text-messaging the weather bureau. The much-touted state-of-the-art roof, capable of retracing in 20 minutes, was shut tighter than a politician's wallet, and anyone expecting a typical summer's evening of cricket had obviously boarded the wrong tram. The Telstra Dome's overseers were calling it the advent of a new sporting era. Some fans, however, were calling it anything but cricket.
"The weather and this game are supposed to go hand in hand," claimed Daniel from the neighbouring suburb of North Melbourne. "In here it's more like a mad scientist's laboratory." He slumped down in his seat, ignoring the personalised pop-up screen capable of displaying statistics, bowling changes and field placements on demand. "All this high-tech stuff doesn't mean much to me. It's a simple game. Why complicate it?" he moaned. "The wind should dictate the bowling. The light should influence the batsman. In here we don't know if it's day or night, hot or cold. I'm part of some controlled experiment."
In the upper section, a group of New Zealand supporters agreed. "I can't believe I'll go home tonight without a T-shirt tan," laughed Rebecca from Auckland, as she displayed her black shirt with the silver fern proudly emblazoned on the back.
"Where's the smell of sunscreen? Where's the breeze? Where's the atmosphere?" asked her husband Morris. He'd opted for the beige polyester figure-hugging World Series Cricket-inspired T-shirt, set off by the Dennis Lillee-inspired terry-towelling headband. "Somehow it doesn't seem like the kind of stadium you could grow to love."
Fair point. The Telstra Dome in Melbourne's Docklands isn't exactly what you'd call lovable. The grey, metallic architecture is far from pretty. Four years old and having already undergone three name changes, it's eons away from being historical, and with a capacity of a tad over 53,000, it's not really a behemoth to pack 'em in the aisles, so doesn't hold a candle to the MCG or Eden Gardens. What it lacks in form, however, it makes up for in content. This shiny, easily accessible venue hosts a plethora of top-notch sporting events, including Australian Rules footy, soccer, rugby league, rugby union - and the odd bit of international cricket. As the 30,000-strong crowd applauded, Mexican waved, and brandished a sea of blow-up plastic fingers in the air, even detractors had to admit that the Telstra Dome is a very efficient host.
And for those who still needed convincing, there were the sporting optimists, ready to embrace the venue and all its facets. "I first saw cricket here in the winter of 2000 when the South Africans played, and I came again for the Pakistan game in 2002," said Martin from the nearby city of Geelong. "It's fascinating to watch the game with the roof closed," he continued. "You don't get distracted by anything, and can concentrate on what's going on in the middle. The outside world doesn't exist, and sometimes that's a good thing."
His friend Nigel was keen to interrupt: "It's more egalitarian than other cricket venues," he nodded, while enjoying his own pop-up screen. "No-one is in the sun all day. No-one has to complain about the seating. Everyone can get to the bar. The toilets are clean. It's a spectator's dream come true."
Fair point too. The Telstra Dome is perfectly functional. By the end of the night, as the Kiwis snatched victory, and the fans went into applauding, Mexican-waving and finger-brandishing overdrive, it seemed the perfect, slapdash, wham-bam start to the limited-overs circus. And everyone had forgotten that the roof was closed.
Christine Davey is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.