An Englishwoman in South Australia

Jenny Thompson
Following the heart translates into migrating from England to Australia - and no regrets

"You left London for... Adelaide?" My new colleagues in the Adelaide Oval press box were incredulous. "Yep!" I said. "And how lucky are we to live here?"

They weren't convinced. It was 2007 and Adelaide was a sleepy city, its Test ground statuesque but jaded. Both have since been radically overhauled, but even back then I knew I'd found my paradise.

Since I was a child, I had dreamed of leaving damp and dreary England for bright and beachy Australia. Neighbours and the Ashes painted sunshine onto my drab '80s existence, while real-live Aussies at my cricket club taught me heaps-good phrases.

"Nine inches" - less dodgy than it sounds - reminds an outfielder to throw within the width of the stumps, and "We're not playing for sheep stations" means "Don't take the game so seriously, punk."

Teenage me was so hooked on cricket - specifically Aussie-style - that while my mates were cruising Topshop, crushing on Kurt Cobain and applying grungy eyeliner, I was smearing on Warnie-esque zinc, fearing AB's captaincy and perfecting my impression of Merv's bustling trundle-and-release.* Yeah, I was cool.

By my twenties I'd decamped to London to work in sports media while fantasising about escaping to less stressful, more spacious Australia - even though I'd never been there. I continued to do nothing about it till I landed a transfer to… Adelaide.

Brilliant, but I couldn't place the city on a map, nor tell you it was the capital of South Australia. I knew it had a Test ground, though, and beaches, so I figured it must be all right.

Ducks by the banks of the River Torrens © UniversalImagesGroup

After renting a four-bed beachfront house for the same price as a third-floor room in London, and being stoked to be in a country where cricket was still televised for free, the next thing was to head down to Adelaide Oval to catch some Sheffield Shield. Under an endless blue sky, I instantly felt at home among the picket fences, and I loved that, unlike at England's Test grounds, here you could sit on the grass.

I've seen some memorable moments since - a Tendulkar ton; du Plessis' absorbing debut; Lehmann's emotional retirement; Cook destroying the Aussies; Johnson destroying the Pommies. I've slowly embraced the Big Bash and day-night Sheffield Shield. I've even played on the Oval in an A Grade club final (we were flogged, but it was awesome).

Over recent years I've seen the ground itself transformed through a A$500m facelift. The saggy orange skin of the Bradman Stand has been sloughed away, leaving intact the beautiful bone structure of the brick walls. I had worried the scoreboard would be exiled to the outer perimeter, à la the SCG, and that they'd take away my hill. But both stayed, and as a progressive traditionalist (if that's not oxymoronic) I was super-happy with the result.

The redevelopment also means the AFL boys are back in town, with record crowds making the city pump. Pre-development, I did watch an Aussie-Kiwi soccer friendly, but footy at the ground felt incongruous. The Oval used to host Rugby Sevens and there was an ATP World Tour tennis event on adjacent courts, but both have since been lost to Queensland, and the F1 to Victoria. While we've retained the lucrative Clipsal 500 and Tour Down Under races, they just ain't as sexy.

Watching cricket in perpetual sunshine: what's not to like? © Getty Images

Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are only short plane rides away anyway, and great for weekend breaks. It's probably sacrilegious to my adopted city, however, to admit that visiting the MCG - albeit "only" to watch a Sri Lanka trouncing - was particularly special.

Adelaide's the modest little sister of those big cities so I'm happy to take the loudhailer and boast on her behalf about why I love this place. It's on Lonely Planet's Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2014 and consistently makes the world's top ten most liveable cities for good reasons, ranging from low unemployment and low crime to a fairly robust economy and an enviable pace of life.

It's as relaxed as you want it to be, or as hectic. With a small population, people have time for you, nobody's ever in a rush. Carl Hooper and JM Coetzee have made it their home, Ben Folds wrote a song about living here, and Julia Gillard has moved back post-prime ministership. Yes: Adelaide's very liveable, and ultra-loveable.

It's less the City of Churches these days, more the City of Culture. Beyond sport and beaches, there are concerts, festivals and cute little laneways housing pop-up bars, all building a growing vibe about town. The 2015 World Cup will be an integral part of "Mad March", a month where the Adelaide Festival, WOMADadelaide, Writer's Week and Clipsal converge in Adelaide's very accessible space.

Beyond the city, there are wine regions and natural splendour and shark diving and swimming with dolphins. Our clean food and wine are world-renowned. We're also proud of being a free settler state... a little too much in the case of the original governors, who never even planned a jail. The state has its fair share of dark history, though, with the so-called Snowtown Murders particularly notable.

Of course Adelaide's not perfect - no place is. It has dodgy areas and patchy public transport. Geographically, for me, it will always be a long way from my family: Skype's no substitute for an in-person cuppa. And in Australia, I further feel disconnected from English cricket and other league sports that were once the fabric of my existence. Foxtel helps but watching live games can be tricky with opposing time zones.

McLaren Wharf at Port Adelaide © Getty Images

Furthermore, cricket clubs here don't have the same atmosphere as English ones. Strip lighting makes them feel stark and the ridiculously hot weather contributed to me quitting after a few seasons. I still do some ad hoc coaching but mainly I want my summer weekends for camping, fishing, cycling, yoga and beach running: in other words, living la dolce vita.

Actually, every day feels like a holiday in my coastal suburb of Largs Bay, which is only a 20-minute train ride from the city. After beach cricket matches, it's fun to sink a pint at the Largs Pier Hotel, where Cold Chisel's Jimmy Barnes began his career. I love having a local, and being one - and in Adelaide, I've found the sense of community I always found lacking in London. Citizenship has further cemented my belonging. Now I support both England and Australia, although when they clash, my heart orders me to back the Poms, even when my head counsels otherwise.

When I moved to Australia, I only wanted a Test ground and a beach, yet I've found more than I ever dreamed possible. For once I was ahead of a curve and now me 'n' Adelaide are surfing a big barrelling wave together - and we're loving it.

*This involves setting your arms roundly and holding them firm towards the ground while bounding in as hard as you can, determination etched into your face. Fake mo optional.

Jenny Thompson is a former ESPNcricinfo assistant editor

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