For a ground that just a month earlier hosted some of the best T20 players in the country – if not the world – and next week will switch to kicking off part two of the 2020/21 Marsh Sheffield Shield season, last weekend the hallowed turf of arguably the country’s most picturesque cricket ground played host to around 60 Tasmanian cricketers from various communities – and their 100s of their supporters and fans.
The day started with a game between Cricket Tasmania’s Northern and Southern All-Abilities teams, which have been formed in partnership with New Horizons. The players have intellectual disabilities but generally play cricket in mainstream clubs.
Captain of the victorious Southern side, Craig Blaschke, said his side thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It was good. I was pinching myself playing cricket on here [Blundstone Arena],” Blaschke said. “I’ve played a few footy games, but it was my first time playing cricket [on Blundstone Arena]. It was good fun, it was a great day, so cheers for that Cricket Tas!”
The next match featured an Indigenous Invitational XI that played against a Cricket Tasmania Pathways XI. A part of Cricket Tasmania’s development program, normally the indigenous team would go away to Alice Springs to the National Indigenous Championships at this time of year. However, unsurprisingly, this was not possible in a COVID-affected 2020/21 season, so instead there was the opportunity for them to play against some really high quality opposition in the Cricket Tasmania Pathways side.
“It was a really good opportunity to play for your state and play for your culture,” said Indigenous Invitational XI player, Jack Callinan. “You don’t get the opportunity every day of the week, so when it does come along, you take it with two hands.”
“We were supposed to go to Alice Springs…[so it was] a bit disappointing we didn’t get away there, but to play at this ground and this facility is unbelievable.”
The final game of the day was the Intercultural Sports League Grand Final, which is a significant event on the Tasmanian community cricket calendar each year. Including a Nepalese rock band as part of the pre-match entertainment, the main game had a significant crowd come along to see the KLM Kings take out the title in the fifth year of the Intercultural Sports League.
Chair of the Intercultural Sports League, Raj Chopra, said playing on Blundstone Arena was a dream come true for many of the league’s participants.
“It was an ambition of the Hurricanes Champions League since we started [in the] last five years… Every year we had the Grand Final at KGV [Oval] but this year Cricket Tas gave us the opportunity to play here. I think’s it’s been talked about in different countries, we have friends in India and Pakistan and US and people have watched it and they absolutely loved it!”
Captain of the victorious KLM Kings, Umair Butt, echoed Chopra’s comments.
“Honestly, I said on that day as well, it was a dream for every single player to play on Blundstone Arena and it’s a feeling that can’t be expressed …everyone who has come from back home wants to play cricket in international facilities…it’s a feeling that you can’t just express in the words.”
Cricket Tasmania’s General Manager – Community Cricket, Ben Smith, said that whilst Blundstone Arena is often solely associated with elite sport, fundamentally it is a community cricket ground.
“It is a part of the community and it’s a great asset for the Tasmanian community, and every opportunity that we can get to get anyone that loves the game and wants to play the opportunity to play out here is really important. It’s obviously an outstanding surface and a great pitch and we saw over 800 runs scored on the day, so I think they all enjoyed the experience.”
Whilst the day initially came about to make up for lost playing opportunities as a result of COVID-19, the success of the event has led to the inevitable question; when will the next one be?!
“I’m getting some really good support from our CEO at the moment,” Smith continued, “he’s made a couple of very encouraging statements about trying to find a date each year and lock this in as an annual event, and that would be our ambition going forwards.”
“We pride ourselves on being a sport for all and cricket is so easy to modify and adapt; you can play it on the beach, you can play it in the backyard and you can play it regardless of what ability you have, so we’re really keen to make sure that cricket is a sport for all, and celebrating all of these different groups who enjoy our game is really important to us.”