I was fortunate to escape the wintry weather for two weeks in December to travel to Australia for the first time. A major motivating factor behind this trip, other than the wonderful weather and plentiful tourist attractions (and a much needed break from studying!), was the Boxing Day Cricket Test Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which for only the second time in history would feature Sri Lanka. This prestigious event, held at this colossal arena of 100,000 capacity, is widely considered the crown in the Australian cricket calendar. On top of this, Melbourne is home to a large number of Sri Lankan ex-pats and descendants, adding extra spice to the atmosphere of Australia-Sri Lanka matches here.
Day 1 was a breathtaking experience, with an attendance of around 70,000 at the ground, the crowd in festive cheer after Christmas Day, anticipating an exciting day’s cricket. The designated “Sri Lankan Fan Zone” wasn’t far away from the noise of the Premadasa in Colombo, with Melbourne’s very own Papare band playing their well-known carnival repertoire of Sri Lankan music. The Australian roars to celebrate Matthew Wade’s stunning catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara, and the build-up to Mitchell Johnson’s hat-trick ball were truly incredible.
Sadly Sri Lanka performed extremely poorly, being bowled out for 156 in the first innings. Australia posted 460 in reply before tearing through a by now injury ridden Sri Lanka for 103 in the second innings. It is perhaps one of the worst Sri Lankan performances I can remember. The only minor positive was a special personal milestone for Kumar Sangakkara, who became the joint fastest batsman to reach 10,000 runs in test cricket on Day 1.
One part of this experience I won’t forget is the train ride home after Day 1, with a carriage full of Sri Lankans in full voice singing Sri Lankan songs, despite the desperate state of the match for our side. Perhaps it highlights Sri Lankan cricket followers’ enduring spirit even in adversity (Either that or we’re just a bunch of crazy party animals!). A Sri Lankan restaurant (there are a lot of these) in a Melbourne suburb provided a perfect way to drown our sorrows.
Howzat? Video by ACA (Channel 9 Australia)
Besides cricket, Melbourne has plenty more to offer for the tourist. It’s Central Business District provides an alluring expression of old and new architecture, as well as a bustling social and recreation scene. Sport is an overwhelming theme, with not only the MCG, but the Rod Laver Tennis Arena (home to the Australian Open Tennis Championships), as well as other impressive venues for a variety of sports including rugby, Aussie rules football and basketball.
I also managed to spend a few days in Sydney before the Boxing Day test taking in the scenic sights. With it’s rather unique coastline and estuaries, Sydney provides a beautiful backdrop for a great tourist experience, the aesthetic highlights being the magnificent Sydney Opera House, with the Harbour Bridge towering over opposite, and Bondi Beach.
A trip to Australia probably wouldn’t be complete without an experience of its native wildlife, and there are plenty of opportunites to get up close to the famous kangaroos, wallabies, dingos and koalas. Another unmissable experience is the Penguin Parade at Philip Island, off the south coast of Victoria, where several hundreds (literally!) of penguins take to the shore at nightfall right in front of you.
So the cricket result may have been a disaster, but the experience certainly wasn’t. I’d definitely recommend visiting Australia to anyone with a taste for travel. For England cricket fans, maybe next year when the MCG hosts…The Ashes…