Cricket in Townsville: Is that Cape Town?

Cape Town. A charming city on the western cape of South Africa. The city unravels below the looming dominance and breathtaking façade of Tabletop Mountain, which provides a stunning canvas for the tree-rimmed hills and quaint grandstands of the city’s premier cricket ground. 

Newlands Cricket Ground is highly regarded as the most beautiful ground in international cricket and Townsville – a naturally blessed city located in the rapidly developing north-east corner of Australia – has a similar treasure of its own. Townsville is the biggest city in northern Australia. It has a rich sporting history, burgeoning arts and cultural scene, a thriving economy and a lovely little cricket ground to boot, which in my humble view is an absolute necessity for any modern city!

That little ground – which could be described as a much younger brother of Newlands – is currently hosting a rare first class cricket match between Australia A and South Africa A. It isn’t the first time Townsville has hosted top class cricket. State cricket has occasionally dared to venture north of Brisbane and in 2012 the city hosted the ICC Under 19 World Cup. But, perhaps most significantly, the great West Indian side of the 1980s played Queensland at the city’s Endeavour Park in 1987. Yes, that’s my club’s home ground and yes it has been graced by the likes of Haynes, Richardson, Gomes, Richards, Dujon, Marshal and Garner. Absolute cricket royalty. Queensland defeated the West Indies by 25 runs.

2014’s contest is played at the picturesque Riverway Sports & Cultural Complex, the match is the 1st of two 4 day games played between the southern hemisphere rivals.

Riverway is a relatively new facility. Built in the mid-2000s its centrepiece consists of brilliant sculpted public pools and a performing arts centre adjoining the fresh water section of Ross River. Giant trees line a natural bend in the river and encircle Riverway’s other show-piece, the cricket ground. One modern stand sits astride the playing surface, while grassy knolls envelop the remaining boundary providing spectators a perfect setting for a lazy afternoon at the cricket complete with a picnic, a good book and ice cold beer. Looming in the background is the tree lined and rocky cliff faces of Mount Stuart, a less specular distant cousin of Table Top Mountain. The picture stimulates visions of the sparkling scene at Newlands and perhaps leads locals to ponder how long will pass before Townsville can attract a Test Match?

In the coming fortnight I’ll be getting down to Townsville’s own pretty little cricket ground, where thousands are expected to fill the hills on the weekends. I’ll soak up the atmosphere and report back here with a summary of the reaction and sentiment about cricket in Australia’s north.

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Cricket Australia’s photo shows the players wandering out after lunch on day 1 in Townsville. Australia A went on to make 239. South Africa A are 4/89 in reply. Mt. Stuart casually struts its stuff in the distance.

If you’re too far from Townsville to get yourself to the A game, fear not. There’s plenty of international cricket on the telly to satiate your thirst for Test Match.

England had a cracking start yesterday in the 4th Test against India at Old Trafford. India’s brave captain MS Dhoni elected to bat on a wicket favouring fast bowlers (somebody has found the hose at Old Trafford, which seemed to be lost when Australia and its cartel of fast bowlers visited in 2013). Within minutes of the start India were in tatters at 4 for 8, eventually rolled for 152. Superb bowling from Stuart Broad (6/25) and James Anderson (3/46) gave the Indians no chance. Perhaps the only concern for England; their third seamer Chris Woakes went wicketless for the 5th innings in three matches.

It’s early days for Woakes, but England will be desperate for him to start the process of subtracting about 150 from his current bowling average of 179.

England trail by 39 at stumps on Day 1 after closing at 3/113.

There is a hope for India; the last four times England have had the opposition at 4 down for less than 25 in a Test Match… they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, overlooking the Laccadive Sea in the northern reaches of the Indian Ocean sits Galle,  another picturesque international cricket ground. Formerly known as The Esplanade, the Galle International Stadium sits beside a 16th Century Dutch Fort. It is hosting the first of two Tests between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Despite narrowly losing a 2 Test series to South Africa, Sri Lanka will be keen to dominate one of their sub-continent rivals. However, after 2 days they’re on the back foot; at 1/99 and 352 runs behind on first innings, they’ll need their formidable batsmen to counter Pakistan veteran Younis Khan‘s 177.

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