Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Art of Cricket.

The Art of Cricket.

By Owen Zupp

In this blog I often contemplate how cricket as a game steps outside the pickets and impacts upon other spheres. Often it is through the friendships made and at other times through the lessons of fair play that apply to everyday life. Occasionally it is the game's beauty. Sometimes the beauty may seem obscure but at other times it is a little more obvious and expressed in a manner that is both diverse and tangible. Such is the case with the magnificent cricket art exhibition on display at the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame.

The 2012 Cricket Art Prize entrants are currently being showcased at this wonderful venue and represent an amazing body of work by artists from Australia and abroad. While I sit at the low end of the scale in terms of being an art critic, the works on display are amazing on so many levels. There is the initial impact emanating from their broad range in size, shape, colour and texture; but there is something deeper. There is the matter of perspective.

For the topic of a solitary sport, the artists have grasped so many different angles through their work. The intricate detail of leather on willow, or the solitude of a boy looking for a lost ball. The dynamic energy of a slashing drive, or the clouds brewing, threatening to spoil the day. A handshake between foes and the heat of an outback game seems to radiate from the canvas. Subtle observations - beautifully portrayed.

The art communicates so many messages that transcend a mere sport and yet cricket remains an underlying theme throughout. And for those who which to purchase one of the art works, a significant portion of the proceeds are donated to the McGrath Foundation and the Ponting Foundation.

Life may be seen to imitate art, but through the efforts of these talented artists; life is imitating cricket. The paintings offer beauty for the beholder and whispered messages for those who pause to listen. Just as cricket is more than just a game, these works are far more than brush-strokes on a canvas. 

Perhaps they are yet another reason why cricket matters.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Cricket's Timeless Test.... By Owen Zupp.

Cricket's Timeless Test.

By Owen Zupp

I attended a school reunion the other night. It had been thirty years since I'd donned the blazer and been one of the many confined to the classroom. They were good times from what I can recall and this was further emphasised by the warm spirit that surrounded those of us gathered in the old dining hall.

The old 'cliques' of yesteryear seemed to have dissipated and after three decades there was even a hint that we'd all grown up a little. The conversations were varied and entertaining as we re-lived our mistakes of the past and present. There was a special connection too with the members of the First XI cricket team that I had played with. It was as if we had not stopped laughing from 1982 and the camaraderie had picked up right where it left off so many years ago. For all the fading memories, we could still recall Andrew Knight trying to take our heads off with precise detail. We could see and hear that seam searing past our nose.

They were friendships forged in teenage struggle and the bonds were still with us now on a cold winter's night in 2012. Yet for all the conversation and recollections, the most special moment for me came at the end of the evening. Away from the white table-cloths and wine glasses. Away from the photographs and memorabilia. Even away from the people. It was a truly special moment of solitude.  

With a long drive home, I left the gathering sooner rather than later. As I walked across the darkened grounds towards the gate and my waiting car, I paused. I stood there in the silence and surveyed my surroundings, the scenes of my greatest triumphs and most embarrassing moments were all within a stone's throw and I hadn't been here for thirty years.

I began to walk away from the front gate and towards the Glasson Pavilion, perched between two playing fields. As I loped through the darkness I half-expected to be hailed down by a security guard and questioned about my movements and motive. In a coat and tie, complete with a name tag bearing the school crest, I was confident that I could talk my way out of that one. Even so, no challenge to my being was forthcoming.  

I passed the Headmaster's residence and crossed the Old Boy's Oval where I played my very first organised game of cricket. From there I climbed the stairs into the pavilion, but this time there was no bat under my arm or obscenities under my breath. I moved to the top of the pavilion where to the north sat the "Old Boy's" and to the south sat the main oval, The Buchanan. Within 180 degrees sat  the core of my cricketing life. The formative games that set me on this wonderful journey.

I could almost see the younger 'me' repeatedly hitting a ball against the base of the grandstand. I could feel my shoulder ache as just over there I had been smacked by a 'bean ball' that missed my head by the length of my neck.The 'bubblers' still remained where I would drink gallons of water at a time. But the old scoreboard was gone, replaced by a digital slab void of any soul. I could hear the voices of my youth and smell that fresh summer grass with just a hint of moisture from the night before. The bat oil, the crisp whites and the feel of the new match ball, still wrapped in its white paper bag at the bottom of my kit.

The black and white cap and the crest that I had trained so hard to wear and the immense pride in leading my mates onto the field. The lonely moments in the rooms and the end of a battle lost or an innings all too short. The magnificent ladies and their magnificent lunches. The cute girls that came to the watch that I then struggled to converse with. The laughter of friends and the good company of our foes. They were some of the happiest days of my life. And I have had a great life.

As I sat all alone in the pavilion, I was actually surrounded by memories and friends. I was so at peace with the world that I wanted to sit there forever and inhale those days once more; slow and deep. I wanted to hang onto that feeling for just one more minute.  For no matter what challenges life may have brought me along the way, those simple pleasures of a well spent youth on fields of green with mates of gold have always been there. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to hang onto them for another thirty years and this wonderful game of cricket will keep one corner of my heart sixteen forever.

Perhaps that's why cricket matters...... 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Heroes. By Owen Zupp.


I think that I have learned a lot about REAL heroes in writing my current book.

* Heroes’ stories are rarely told. Celebrities tweet when they are getting a haircut.

* Celebrities believe that the world revolves around them. Heroes just want a better world.

* Heroes take pride in the achievements of their peers. Celebrities perceive that they have no peers.

* Celebrities see the world. Heroes visit foreign lands too, but they may never come home.

*Heroes are humble. There is no money in being a humble celebrity.

* Celebrities have fame and fortune. Heroes have a mortgage.

* Heroes often die through acts of selflessness. Celebrities often die through acts of selfishness.

In this world, the line between heroism and celebrity has become terribly blurred. That is not to say that there are some celebrities who have wonderful hearts and do tremendous work; there are. What I am saying is that there are amazing, anonymous people working in research laboratories, hanging from helicopter winches and serving in foreign lands. Let’s not forget them.

Please, let’s not confuse our heroes and our celebrities.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Cricket's Mums and Dads.

 Cricket's Mums and Dads.

By Owen Zupp.

Whether the elite sportsperson is standing upon the Olympic dias or holding the Ashes aloft, there are very few who do not recognise the important role played by their parents. Whether it was those laps at the local pool at 5am or the country cricket carnival 500km away, Mum and/or Dad was there.

For it's in those early years that so much sporting development takes place. There is the obvious honing of ability, but there is also the establishment of a work ethic and the appreciation of the game to be instilled. Coaches can only do so much, whereas the parents are there for the long haul. And those parents need not be sporting achievers in their own right.

In my case, my father could not have been further removed from having a sporting background. A child of the 'Great Depression' years, his father would point at boys playing cricket and reaffirm that it was a total waste of time. There was work to be done on the farm and sport was just wasted daylight. And yet this did not taint my father's outlook when his own sons came along.

My brother wanted to be George Best and play for Manchester United and I wanted to play the 'come to attention' drive just like Doug Walters. In retrospect, such dreams must have seen fanciful to my Dad, but that didn't matter to him. He was still the first one to volunteer to mow the oval or mark the side lines with lime powder. (Just don't ask him to score, umpire or be a linesmen. He never could grasp 'off-side' or 'leg before wicket') To him, it was time with his kids and if they regarded it as important, then he would support them to the hilt.

For my cricketing endeavours that meant driving me all over Sydney from our home in the heart of the western suburbs. And if he was flying that morning, he would come straight to the ground after he landed, with a jumper hurriedly pulled on over his uniform. He would then sit in the stands amongst 'expert' fathers, totally at a loss regarding their language. One day on the way home he mentioned that the 'experts' had mentioned that I was playing with a "nice straight bat". I explained what they meant and he was greatly relieved when he expressed to me that, "I spent $100 on that bat, it would bleedin' well want to be straight!"

My Dad loved spending time with his kids and I'll never forget that. He would kick soccer balls with us until it was dark and the way he used to 'head the ball' must have nearly rendered him concussed. When we broke a window, he followed suit and kicked a ball clean through a fibro panel about ninety degrees from where he was aiming. Gold Dad, absolute gold!

Probably my favourite memory is going to the nets with Dad one season when I was playing Green Shield in Sydney. At the nets he would generally stand at half a pitch length and throw some balls down to me. This day he decided to bowl off a length. Dad's only training at throwing was in World War Two as a Commando and he literally threw like it. Years later I was batting against John Dyson and he was throwing loopy off-breaks at me which I prodded away. John mentioned that I was batting as if he was "throwing hand grenades". My thoughts immediately went to my Dad and brought the broadest grin to my face.

So now, here I am, twenty years after he passed away and my Dad is still bringing a smile to my face. A smile that comes from time spent together at cricket grounds near and far. He never wanted or needed me to wear a 'baggy green', he was happy to sit in the stands, support me and appreciate the fact that 'duck' or draw, I loved the game. He couldn't play the game, but he was with me every step of the way and I will never forget that.

So to all the Mums and Dads that do the early starts and the hard miles. For all the hours of scoring, umpiring and de-facto coaching. Thank you. For whether your child makes the Under 14D's or captains his nation like Michael Clarke, they will appreciate your effort and those golden times forever. Cricket is in itself just a game, but the bonds that can grow from the endeavour are timeless; be they team-mates, coaches or parents. My father was definitely no sportsman and yet he grew even closer to his children through sport and though he is now long gone, I still treasure those times.

Maybe that's another reason why cricket matters.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Don Bradman and the International Cricket Hall of Fame.

By Owen Zupp.

Only a little more than an hour from Sydney lies the NSW Southern Highlands and the hamlet of Bowral. Set to a backdrop of green fields that would not be out of place in Britain, it was the boyhood home of Sir Donald Bradman, the famed cricketer. Today it is home to the International Cricket Hall of Fame, which includes the Bradman Gallery.

As I wandered through the halls past intriguing artefacts and interactive displays, I couldn’t help but be impressed at this tribute to not just a man, but a wonderful game. And yet, something even more striking pervaded my thoughts; just as the game had changed, so had we. Time has seen an amateur game grow into a global business being instantaneously flashed across the globe via satellite. Families no longer huddle around the wireless to hear the broadcast from far flung fields, but check the latest scores on their iPhone Apps.

It’s almost a case of innocence-lost in an effort to keep pace with the ever-changing world and ever-increasing competition for market share. And yet in these halls, there are interviews continuously broadcast with elder statesmen using well chosen words in modest tones; there are no ‘high-fives’ here. One can only wonder at the sponsorship dollars ‘The Don’ would have accrued in the 21st Century.

And yet, just as the Hall of Fame takes the guest on a journey through the ages, I recognise that change is inevitable. I respect the professionalism and dedication displayed by our modern players in a game that now demands so much of their lives beyond the picket fence. But like life in general, we all have a secret longing for a ‘simpler’ time I suspect. Furthermore, all too often the good that stems from the sport can be overlooked. The Bradman Foundation is a charitable organisation with a specific charter. A number of players past and present have their own foundations; Glenn McGrath,  Steve Waugh and  Ricky Ponting just to name a few.

As we move forward at an ever-increasing pace and seemingly demand instantaneous gratification from everything, including our past-times, maybe we should stop and pause. Stop and pause to remember those who have founded our institutions, those who have excelled and those who have tirelessly kept the dream alive. Stop and pause to think about the simple pleasures and the sheer joy of youngsters playing the game for the game’s sake and little else. Stop and pause about where the future lies and making change for the right reasons.

Sport in itself is not life, but is rich in life’s lessons. From a young age, it teaches humility, disappointment, determination and joy. It teaches co-operation, patience and the fact that anything worthwhile takes time and effort. There are so many fledgling qualities that can be introduced through sport and carried through on the larger stage of life.

For my part, I will continue to wander these hallowed halls in Bowral and step lightly between yesteryear and today, trying to learn what I can from past and present. I will recognise that it’s ‘only a game’ but value the lessons and respect the traditions. Places like the International Cricket Hall of Fame are national treasures and not just for the sporting enthusiast, for they offer a glimpse into the past with one foot in the present. And as we know, there is much to be learned from those who have gone before.


Please support these very worthy foundations.

The Bradman Foundation.

The McGrath Foundation.

The Steve Waugh Foundation.

The Ponting Foundation.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Howzat! Kerry Packer's War from a Kid's Perspective.


Kerry Packer's War from a Kid's Perspective.


Owen Zupp

There were a couple of advantages to being born in the mid-1960s. Firstly, you were able to get a handle on the Metric system before feet and inches had been firmly burnt into your brain and secondly, you were a young teenager when World Series Cricket exploded onto the scene.

When the news broke of the WSC signings, it was May of 1977 and the Australian cricket team were on tour in England. For me, that meant listening to the broadcast on my radio which was slipped beneath my pillow, willing Doug Walters to achieve that elusive first century on English soil. Doug played for our local club, Cumberland, when he wasn't on representative duties and I would ride my bike to catch a glimpse of the boy from Dungog. Now I listened intently with fingers crossed as the school day loomed only hours away.

When Doug returned to Australia, he had still yet to record a Test century in England, but that was a mere sub-paragraph compared to the real story of World Series Cricket. As WSC set about establishing its competition, the Australian Cricket Board busily began building an Australian Test team without the vast majority of its key players. As both camps bullied for position, they also pro-actively sought the support of the general public and specifically, the youth.

World Series Cricket led the way with a slick marketing campaign on the back of their theme song, "C'mon Aussie C'mon". There were caps and badges, autograph books and board games, free tickets and coaching clinics. Not to be outdone, the 'Establishment' ramped up their bid for an audience and followed suit with giveaways and personal appearances by the players.

In an era when the extent of sporting paraphernalia was 'Footy Cards' or the jersey of your favourite team, now entire shelves at supermarkets were crammed with offerings. Cans of fruit had labels to collect and every newspaper had a competition of some form. As a kid it was a wonderland and I personally attended coaching clinics from both sides of the cricketing divide.

I would watch Sheffield Shield matches and chat with the new generation of Test players like Peter Toohey, but similarly when WSC night cricket came to the SCG, I was there too; including that famous first night when there was standing room only. Those night games were particularly magical. At the end of a school day, I would jump on a train and then 'leg it' to the ground from Central Railway Station while the masses queued for buses. 

I can still recall sitting in the top deck of the Noble Stand when Tony Greig lofted an on-drive straight at my Adam's Apple. Fingers pointed up, I was certain that ball was mine until it faded and fell short. Or the night when Hookesy was cheered to the wicket by 50,000 voices, only to be dismissed cheaply and lamented all the way back to the pavilion by the same 50,000 voices in a lowered tone.

You were free to wander around the sacred Member's Stand and mingle with the players after the match. I spoke to Richie Benaud about the ground at North Parramatta that bears his name and Viv Richards about that 'S-S' bat. One evening, the usually 'forthright' Ian Chappell took some time out and let two of us walk into the front of the Member's and pointed out various aspects the Australian change room through glass. It was a fantastic public relations exercise one that is still with me thirty five years later.

For the game it was a time of upheaval, but as a kid it was a golden age. Now many of my mementoes of that time are dusted off and set to be displayed at the International Cricket Hall of Fame's upcoming WSC exhibition. Once commonplace, these pieces now speak of a time past when cricket fought its own revolution and the face of the game changed forever. However, undoubtedly it is the memories that remain with me the strongest and as I watch my own children grow, there are a whole new set of memories just waiting to be captured.

...and maybe that's another reason 'Why Cricket Matters'.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Michael Clarke's Cricket Academy

Michael Clarke's Cricket Academy.

by Owen Zupp

Hi All,

....and thanks for the great support of the 'Why Cricket Matters' blog so far!

Today the news has broken that the Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke, is poised to establish a cricket academy in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. A mere stone's throw from Sir Donald Bradman's hometown of Bowral. This is tremendous news on a number of grounds.

Firstly, there can never be enough facilities provided for the youth of any nation, be they sporting, for the arts or academic in nature. These young people represent a country's greatest natural resource, despite what mining advertisements may say.

Secondly, I strongly suspect that this is no whimsical fantasy. Michael Clarke's parents have an established track record managing sporting facilities and bring valuable experience and expertise into the equation. Combined with the very marketable brand that is 'Michael Clarke', any sporting entity with such pedigree has a very substantial base to build upon.

Thirdly, the heritage of cricket in the Southern Highlands is strong. Sir Donald Bradman moved here at two years of age and honed his skills on the ground that today bears his name. The same ground on whose boundary fence stands the wonderful "International Cricket Hall of Fame (ICHOF)" that features the Bradman Gallery Click Here to Visit the ICHOF. This fantastic facility will be the subject of its own blog in the very near future.

However, beyond the base facts of Michael Clarke's Cricket Academy venture lies a very important message; one of re-investing into the game of cricket. Now people will want to focus on the dollar value of the Berrima property and cynics will seek out some ulterior motive. The fact remains that Michael Clarke could have had a financial adviser direct the funds into a tax-efficient share portfolio; but he didn't! He re-invested into the game of cricket, so save the cynicism and give credit where credit is due.

To my best recollection, I first briefly met Michael Clarke when he made an appearance at a youth cricket coaching camp at which I was one of the coaches. He may have been in the NSW team at the time, but certainly not in the Australian national side. Even then he was giving up his time to speak to the next generation of cricketers and he connected with them effortlessly.

The next time I saw Michael Clarke was at the rear of the Sydney Cricket Ground Member's Stand during the Test Match versus India this year. It was the morning before he was to resume batting and was on the verge of a triple century. He looked very fit and very composed as he fielded a few questions from various folks before disappearing into the change-rooms and readying to create SCG history.

It was Jane McGrath Day at the Test Match and my wife and I took our seats amidst the sea of pink that has become synonymous with the celebration of Jane's amazing life. Out in the middle Clarke passed the triple century and stood on the verge of Sir Donald Bradman's mark, but declared the innings closed before he stepped through the doorway. Days later as I walked through the galleries of the International Cricket Hall of Fame, there was a pair of Michael Clarke's batting gloves from that record-breaking innings. They weren't up for auction, or stashed away to accrue in value, they were at the heart of Australian cricket's home and there for all to see.

There was no fanfare about Michael Clarke's contribution to the ICHOF's display, but it was yet another indication of the Australian Captain's respect for the game and its history, just as when he relinquished his helmet to don a Baggy Green cap the day he scored his maiden Test century. Now it's 'hats off' to Michael Clarke for proposing to establish a cricket academy for the next generation. Undoubtedly there is a lot of ground-work to be laid and details to be finalised, however, the intent should be applauded for what it is. A great of the modern game, preserving that game for those who will take his place.

Well done Michael.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Why Cricket Matters.

A Cricket Blog
Owen Zupp

It's the middle of winter as I sit with my back to the fireplace at a local tavern while outside it is dark, cold and wet. All in all, the situation is about as far removed from the sunny surroundings of a cricket match as could ever be conjured. And yet, here at this moment as I sit caught between a shiver and an ale, cricket is central to my very being.

Across the table from me sits one of my best mates; Predds. We discuss everything from raising kids to learning to fly, making "billy carts" and jogging with strangers that possess an unscheduled urge to use the bathroom. It's a relaxed evening for two friends to catch up, chew life over and most importantly, share a laugh. And still cricket is as distant as the first days of summer, but a central theme.

You see, Predds and I met through the wonderful game of cricket some time late in the last century. His first memory of me is when I ungraciously tore a hamstring, while my first memory of him is the bloke who laughed so hard that I was sure that he was going to tear a hernia. A more amenable gentleman and doting father you could not hope to meet. Predds is also a very accomplished cricketer, playing first grade in Sydney while still a schoolboy and graduating to the NSW State "Colts" team. Today, he still possesses that air of natural sporting ease that we less-gifted folk envy. He is on first name terms with a number of cricketers who have worn the Baggy Green cap and there is little doubt that had he chosen that road, he would have had a fair shot at the title too. But another vocation called for Predds.

By comparison, I was an average schoolboy cricketer who clambered to captain my school's First XI and play a little grade cricket before my vocation took me down another road. I played against some of the greats when they were just lads and that only served to reinforce the difference in ability between those who can and those who REALLY CAN play the game. Even so, I maintained a passion for cricket and played here and there as the odd working hours of my career permitted.

Despite the significant gap in our cricketing pedigree, it was the game that led Predds and I to become friends; to share common interests away from the game, to interact socially and compare photos of our children. Furthermore, our perspective on life has been shaped in many ways by the virtues of cricket as lessons in disappointment, pressure, humility, perseverance and satisfaction are all wonderfully imparted in those hours 'in the middle'.

Like a chess match where humans are the pieces, cricket calls for both the ability to respond in the instant and yet contemplate the future with measured patience. It exposes our shortcomings for all to see but the simple satisfaction of that one shot that cannons off the bat is an instant that can cross the decades. Sportsmanship and the value of teamwork are key to success and essential in an honourable defeat. And once the sun has set, the covers are on the pitch and the game has concluded, the friendships continue to grow.

So here Predds and I sit, two beers and a few hours down the track. The conversation has touched on cricket, but more on those folks we have come to know through the great game and the wonderful settings that have provided a spectacular backdrop to even the most mediocre performances on the pitch. At its deepest core, cricket is about the flesh and blood, the grass and skies, and less about the willow and the leather.

Perhaps that ís why cricket matters............

Hi All,

Welcome to my new blog, "Why Cricket Matters" where we'll look at life, the universe and the odd picket fence. If you've played the game, watched the game, or had cause to drive within a few blocks of the game, there'll be something here for you.

The door is open and the kettle is on, so join me for a chat about this great game and where it fits into the big picture. For as anyone who has played cricket will tell you, it is the experiences gained and lessons learned that are of the truest value. The intensity of the pitched battle is a blink while the memory of the same lingers somewhat longer. However, it is the people, places and friendships that last well beyond the time when stumps are drawn. Perhaps that's why cricket matters?

Let's find out......