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A marriage of contradictions

Somehow, it all hangs together. It shouldn't, by logic, but it does. Very nicely.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2004 12:09 IST

Somehow, it all hangs together. It shouldn't, by logic, but it does. Very nicely.

Beer wenches and a Bradman Stand; a glut of floppy guts and the diktat for collared shirts and covered shoes in the Members' Stand; the quaint, sloping, green roof of the Ladies' Stand (love that 'Ladies' because this is a country where women's toilets are mostly marked 'Female') perched on long, slender, yellow columns and the banality of fan-of-the-day contests.

The Sydney Cricket Ground is a place that marries contradictions. In its hold over this city and the manner in which Sydneysiders live and enjoy themselves, it not so much thrives on the dualities as it transcends them.

In the morning, Jamie Barkley, CEO of the SCG Cricket Trust, was on television, talking about record attendances. "In 1946, we had 195,000 people over the six days of the Test. That is the record. It will be under threat this year." Well, where I come from (the Eden Gardens in Kolkata), we clock up a touch less than a hundred thousand in a day.

But the numbers, as often, don't tell the real story.

The SCG is not, by Australian standards, a small ground. It holds about 42,000 people -- second only to the MCG. But inside, all over the ground -- in the stands, in the forecourts, in the patches of green that are scattered all around within the complex (which holds the football stadium too), beneath the coloured canopies and the brighter food kiosks, there is always a sense of space. Of being able to breathe.

At the Eden Gardens, there is always a feeling of confrontation. One is always wound up, filled with nervous energy, on edge about something or the other: one's seat, one's food, one's water, getting down into the dank bowels of the stadium and getting up to one's seat again, oneself. It's frantic, frenetic.

Here, despite the packed house, and the absorbing play, there is an element of unhurriedness. During the day, whenever I walk down from the press box -- which sits on top of the Bradman Stand, next to a clutch of deluxe suites with enviable catering -- there is a smattering of people, standing around in loose huddles, smoking or drinking. There is a sense, always, of partying, of having a good time, of the outdoors and summer and bar-b-ques.

It is a very Australian way of life, this sense of partying, and it pervades the way of watching cricket as it does every other aspect of their life and culture. Especially in summer. "It's because the Sydney Test always starts on a particular day. One structures one's life in this period around this event," says Matthew Engel, doyen of contemporary cricket writers and editor of the Wisden Cricketers Almanack.

Any Australian who is interested in cricket has been talking of the New Year Test for days. From even before this series turned into a contest. "It is a great social occasion. It's a privilege to be here," says Engel. For many in this ground today, it is a privilege which could come only once in one's life.