Cricket and the ANZAC spirit

Liam Coventry-Poole | 24 Apr 2014

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Cricket has played its role as a source of respite and distraction for Australians during times of conflict over the past century.

On 17 December, 1915, Australian soldiers used cricket in a way it had never been used before.

Two days before the evacuation of Gallipoli Australian soldiers staged a cricket match at an area known to the diggers as Shell Green. The Australian soldiers dropped their weapons and joined the cricket match staged next to our nation’s most iconic battlefield.

Remarkably, the cricket match was used as a tactic, to convince the Turkish that there was stability amid the camps beyond the trenches.

In 2001, an Australian Test team led by Steve Waugh visited the historic site, paying tribute to the diggers by staging a photo taken of that match.

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Top image courtesy of the Australia War Memorial http://www.awm.gov.au

In Steve Waugh’s 2005 Autobiography entitled ‘Out of my comfort zone’, the former Australian captain described the impact the visit had on his team.

“True bonding experiences stand the test of time and become part of you and, most certainly, visiting Gallipoli together on our way to England for the 2001 Ashes tour had a profound effect on most of the squad.

"In the limited-overs tournament, we put to good use the increased unity we had gained from Gallipoli, and dominated our matches. We elevated the aggressiveness in our play and tried to consume our opposition as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.”

The First World War claimed the lives of 12 Australian First-Class cricketers, including Test fast-bowler Albert ‘Tibby’ Cotter.

Cotter, who was known for breaking stumps, was arguably one of the best fast bowlers of his time. Cotter made his mark on the game early in the 20th century with 89 Test wickets at 28.64 and 442 First-Class wickets at 24.27.

At the age of 31 the New South Welshman joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in April of 1915, before being accepted into the Australia Light Horse Regiment.

It has been reported that shortly before his death he tossed up a ball of mud and said to a colleague: "That's my last bowl... something's going to happen." 

On 31 October 1917 Cotter was killed by a sniper’s bullet while serving in Palestine.

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As Australia declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies attempted to boost morale amongst the Australian people by encouraging the ACB to push ahead with the 1939-40 Sheffield Shield season.

Although it was business as usual for many of Australia’s cricketers, the Second World War still claimed ten lives of Australian First-Class players who signed up for battle.

The fallen included Australian Test all-rounder and Sergeant-Observer Ross Gregory, South Australian champion wicketkeeper and Flying Officer Charlie Walker and the multi-talented Flying Officer Stuart King, who represented both Victoria in the Sheffield Shield competition and South Melbourne in the VFL.

Fast-forward almost a century and the ANZAC spirit is still well and truly alive in the modern-day cricketer.

Last year in an interview with the ABC current Australian Test and ODI captain Michael Clarke paid tribute to the ANZACS of yesteryear.

“The ANZAC spirit is obviously very special – not only to me, but to all Australians. I think the camaraderie, the friendship, the mateship is something that is vital in your life, and I think the soldiers, the ANZACS, represent that more than any other team that we’ve ever had in this country.

“I think as a sporting team you look up to the soldiers because of that spirit and because of that mateship and you try and build that camaraderie amongst your team.”

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Information sourced from ESPN Cricinfo and the Australian War Memorial.