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Forget caste, in Oz it’s all about sports and politics

cricket Updated: Dec 21, 2011 01:50 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Rohit Bhaskar
Hindustan Times
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The art of politics is all about reaching out to the voting public. In India, that may involve invoking the caste barrier; for a sport-loving nation like Australia it requires being game for a day at the stadium.

Little surprise then that Australia’s three longest-serving Prime Ministers — Robert Menzies, John Howard and Bob Hawke — were all cricket-lovers who contributed to the game in their own way.

The Manuka Oval in Australia’s capital is testament to this. The walls in the narrow corridors of the members’ lounge at the Bradman Stand are adorned with photos of Australian Prime Ministers and some of cricket’s biggest names.

As community cricket manger, Cricket ACT (Australian Capital Territory), Martin Garoni, puts it, “It’s very helpful for the politicians to be seen at cricket and footie (Aussie Rules Football) matches. Some, like Menzies and Howard, were genuine cricket lovers and would sit and watch the entire match.

“For others like Kevin Rudd it was a great photo-op, and as soon as they delivered their official address, they would head back to their office.

“It goes into overdrive when footie season is on, as they (politicians) head back and forth from Sydney to Melbourne. As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t want to be paying for their airfare just for them to make a ceremonial appearance.”

Garoni adds that current PM Julia Gillard is a keen sport-lover, though not as much as her partner Tim Matheison.

A tale of two Bobs

Australia hosts an annual match between a Prime Minister’s XI and the country touring Australia that summer. When the first such game was held in 1951, against West Indies, it was even said the then PM Robert Menzies picked the squad.

Over the next 15 years, six PM XIs played here, most famously in 1962-63 when Menzies coaxed Don Bradman to come out of retirement and play against the visiting England team, who were managed by the Don’s former rival Alec Bedser.

They, however, couldn’t recreate their battles of yore as Brian Statham bowled Bradman for 4, depriving Bedser one last chance to bowl to his great rival.

After Menzies’ record 16-year tenure ended, the match was not held for over 19 years until Bob Hawke revived it in 1984.

In 1984, the PM's XI took on the Parliamentary Press Gallery XI in what was dubbed the ‘Pollies vs Press’ match.

Hawke top-edged a hook shot into his face, smashing his glasses in the process. Although he retired hurt, he later returned to guide his team to victory.