History is being repeated every weekend on the playing fields of Surry Hills.
Cricket season is upon us, or at least upon some of us who watch and play the eccentric game which some have described as the Anglo Saxon Tai Chi.
But even if cricket is not your thing, next time you drive down South Dowling Street on a Saturday, or go down Anzac Parade and see the Flannelled Fools at Play, just spare a thought for what you are actually seeing. It’s cricket history in action.
The Moore Park Cricket Association is Australia’s oldest park cricket association, and dates from 1897. Today’s beer swilling cricket yobs have serious pedigree.
Back in those days, the SCG was the epicentre of cricket in NSW but the game spilled out onto the grounds in the vicinity, with the showcase oval being opposite the Bat & Ball Hotel on the corner of Cleveland and South Dowling. All the big games were there.
The game was much more fluid in those days, and such legendary players as Victor Trumper (1877 to 1915) and “Tiger” Bill O’Reilly (1902 to 1992) graced the Moore Park Association with their skills, playing against much lesser mortals.
The Moore Park history also has death and tragedy. In the 1930s, one of the Moreton Bay figs opposite the Bat & Ball was struck by lightning, and two cricketers were killed.
I played in the Park for several seasons in the 1990s, when I was living in Fitzroy Street, appropriately next to the Cricketers’ Arms Hotels.
It was like living in a Cricket Paradise. You’d roll down to the ground opposite the Bat & Ball, play all afternoon, and then repair back to the pub (which also sponsored the team), to discuss the day’s heroics, and then just roll home.
Many of my team mates, and even opponents, lived and worked in the area and you’d bump into them during the week to discuss how the competition was progressing.
In my own small way, I can also claim to have been a Prince of the Park. I played the best cricket of my life on Moore Park, winning the association batting average and aggregate trophies two years in a row. I don’t often get the opportunity to boast, but this seems an appropriate moment.
My legendary 120 against Coogee on the Moore Park was my highest score ever (even though we lost the game) but it did all end in tears. We were thrashed in the Grand Final by the Woolpack Hotel from Redfern, leaving psychological scars which linger to this day.
Now, of course, I am older, larger and suffering from poor eyesight, so I am happily retired. But every time I drive down South Dowling Street and see people in white chasing red leather I look upon them as my Brothers in Cricket, and allow myself to reminisce just a little bit.
Today, the Moore Park comp has changed radically. The Association merged in the mid 1990s with a couple of other associations to create the Moore Park & South East District Cricket Association (MPSECA) and most of the games are played in Pagewood and Matraville.
Where the fields across from the Bat & Ball used to host at least games on a Saturday, today there are none. Because of space, the ovals overlapped so you could be fielding at fine leg in your game, but be next to someone at Third Man in an adjacent context. It made for chaos.
Under today’s OH&S rules there must be 50 metres between the games, and while that has made it safer, it’s taken out the craziness and also left Moore Park largely empty of cricketers on the weekend.
Also, where there used to be 40 teams in the 1990s, today there are 20, with around 1200 registered players.
As Paul Brien, the MPSECA President puts it: “In my day when summer came you either played cricket or went swimming. Not any more.”
Paul would know. He’s been involved with Moore Park cricket for 40 years, and been president of the association for decades.
Like Victor Trumper, Bill O’Reilly and me, he is also a Prince of Moore Park. And we are not the only ones.