As it happened: Stars v Renegades
The Big Bash League is officially a thing. The people of Melbourne and the MCG made it so on Saturday night when 80,883 squashed into the grand old ground for the Stars-Renegades derby, astonishing even organisers and overwhelming security protocols. Many thousands were caught in queues snaking around Yarra Park, waiting for bag searches and body scans. As per long history of MCG crowds, their humour held. To accommodate the swarm, the MCC at length had to open the members’ reserve to all comers and remove a promotional banner that initially had covered one bank of seats.
Eighty thousand, eight hundred and eighty three. It is worth spelling out. It was almost certainly the biggest crowd for a domestic cricket match anytime, anywhere. It was bigger than this season’s Boxing Day crowd, and for that matter last season’s, too. It was bigger than any Collingwood-Carlton AFL game for the past two years, once the gold standard for derby-style matches in Melbourne. That must have left Eddie McGuire, president of both the Magpies and Stars, with mixed feelings. Then again, his teams won every time, winter and summer.
Sheer crowd size, special effects and gimcrackery were only the half of it. When former Stars captain Cameron White appeared for the Renegades, he was momentarily booed. This game has a history and a memory after all. When White was kept scoreless for a couple of deliveries, fans brandished placards extolling the virtue of the dot ball. This game’s nuances are not lost on everybody. And even the ones that were, so what? I’m not sure how many of this night’s crowd were up with the damage done by artful slower balls — it certainly got by the two lads who spent the night belting each other over the head with thundersticks — but the point about T20 now is that it appeals on a range of levels.
In any case, much later, when Renegades’ wicketkeeper Matt Wade took an acrobatic one-handed catch at the start of the Stars’ innings, even the Stars fans applauded the replay. While Melbourne’s new cricket fans — or should I say Melbourne’s fans of new cricket? — are still sorting out their allegiances, it was possible on this one night for each to have his or her own side and all to be on the same side. The Collingwood-Carlton-style grit will come in its time. This night will become one more grain.
For the record, BBL original and England irregular Luke Wright upstaged much more feted imports Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, smashing a 60-ball century to lead the Stars to last-over victory, whereupon such a fusillade of fireworks was launched that the MCG disappeared behind a smokescreen. The BBL will never be accused of understatement.
As a juncture in cricket and sporting history, this night was comparable with one in Sydney in November, 1978, when such a crowd turned up unannounced for an -West Indies World Series Cricket game at the SCG when Kerry Packer threw open the gates. It was the moment WSC caught on in the public imagination, and thereafter its success was assured, and the face of cricket permanently changed.
Now, it is mutating again. In the swirl, it is not clear for whom the implications of this night are most acute. Is it Test cricket, which has looked like an orphan this summer? It is a more complete game, but does that matter any more? Is it the A-League, which is in direct competition with cricket and whose crowd numbers have stagnated this season? Hell, is it even AFL, which has a longstanding monopoly on the young sporting talent in this town, but for how much longer?
Those are tomorrow’s questions, to be considered once the fireworks smoke has cleared and the whiff of cordite borne away by the wind. Meantime, for the first day of the third Test in Sydney on Sunday, rain is forecast. Team P W L NR T Pts NRR Perth Scorchers 431–61.147Sydney Thunder 431–60.723Adelaide Strikers 431–60.058Hobart Hurricanes 431–6-0.613Melbourne Stars 422–40.052Sydney Sixers 624–40.016Melbourne Renegades 413–2-0.332Brisbane Heat 4-4–0-1.107