Baby steps into the big league

Benjamin Golby
A stadium full of stories, the Manuka Oval is now set to come into its own

Something borrowed: the old MCG scoreboard now sits at the Manuka Oval © Getty Images

Canberra is known for the Prime Minister's XI festival matches featuring touring international sides against motley Australian teams. Cricket-loving prime minister Robert Menzies first arranged a series of games 60 years ago and the popular leader Bob Hawke established the fixture as an annual tradition in the 1980s. While the spirit of festival cricket has waned throughout the world, the game remains an annual event in Australia's capital.

The city's small population of 350,000 has usually travelled north to Sydney for higher grades of international cricket. Recently, however, Canberra has established itself as an attractive host for ODI games, and is even being touted as a possible Test venue. It hosts an unprecedented three matches in the World Cup and, though they feature minnow sides, will be sure to graciously welcome the opportunity.

The venue
Manuka (pronounced Marn-ni-ka) is a Maori word for tea tree, bestowed upon the ground from an early hope that New Zealand might federate with Australia. Indeed, the Black Caps have not lost a fixture there. For many years a picturesque club venue that was periodically beset with throngs for the PM's XI, in recent years the Manuka Oval has been extensively redeveloped to host international cricket as well as football. The increased permanent stands and facilities have not restricted its charms, though, and the rich border of trees, Curator's Cottage and Lord Taverner's gardens all contribute to the ground's appeal.

Manuka is full of quirks, including the old Melbourne Cricket Ground manual scoreboard that was gifted to Canberra when the MCG went digital. It bears the name of Jack Fingleton, a 1930s Australian opening batsman who became a political journalist, was friends with Michael Parkinson, and was one of Bradman's most strident critics. Another bit of trivia is that Nathan Lyon, the Australian Test spinner, undertook a four-year apprenticeship at Manuka to become a groundsman.

Ground page | Fixtures page

Great matches
West Indies v Prime Minister's XII, 1961
West Indies' farewell game of their happy 1960-1961 tour was a joyous affair before a crowd of 10,000 that saw 18 bowlers used, a PM's XII and Frank Worrell keeping wicket. The tourists' blitzkrieg score of 288 was run down by the PM's side with a bullish innings from Norm O'Neill. However, the PM's Sri Lankan guest, Gamini Goonesena, was stumped with the scores level, creating the second tied match of that famous summer.

South Africa v Zimbabwe, World Cup 1992
There was deep symbolism in Canberra's only match in the last home World Cup. South Africa were recently returned to world cricket following the fall of apartheid and Zimbabwe, featuring a reliable young wicketkeeper named Andy Flower, were about to be admitted to Test status. Zimbabwe was routinely trounced.

Top performers in ODIs
No one has played more than one ODI here.

Top score Shane Watson, 122 v West Indies
Best bowling James Faulkner, 4 for 48 v West Indies

Home team
The Australian Capital Territory Comets (men's) and Meteors (women's) hold their own against their more populous neighbours in domestic cricket. This tenacity is evident in the Territory's contribution of some of the most underrated and consistent performers in the Australian side in the last two decades. Talented youngsters also regularly leave the capital for increased first-class opportunities in other states. The current Comets captain, Jono Dean, has about the most Australian Christian name possible and impressed in a recent PM's XI.

Prominent players
Michael Bevan | Brad Haddin | Nathan Lyon

Benjamin, a resident of Melbourne, is writing a thesis on "Music about Donald Bradman"

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