Albert Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Victoria

 4th XI final 2006/07  Melbourne v Prahran. Photo courtesy of MCC.

If ever a game kept the scoreboard operators on their toes, it was this game – a tie. Melbourne, which finished higher on the ladder, won the premiership.

The people in the scoreboard that day were Mick (left) and George. Mick is now the first XI official scorer, based across the Albert ground in the Clive Fairbairn Pavilion, while Geoge keeps the scoreboard ticking over with a colleague. Mick and George have direct phone lines to each other, to make sure everything’s tickety-boo.

 Photo courtesy of MCC

There is a form of hierarchy in the use of scoreboards at the Albert Cricket Ground, a very pretty oval sandwiched into a city setting.

The old manual scoreboard is used for first XI games of the Melbourne Cricket Club, state second XI games and Premier Cup (district cricket) finals.

The brand new electronic scoreboard is for second XI MCC games, friendlies and junior games.

The manual scoreboard requires two operators and can provide batting and bowling details. The electronic scoreboard can only provide batting details (perhaps furthering the notion that cricket is a game for batsmen-and-women, not for bowlers).

The scoreboard has a brick base and tin walls. It measures 10 metres across, six metres high and two metres deep. George watches the game from the second level, about two metres off the ground.

The tools of George’s trade are magnetic letters, long number rolls, trusty L-shaped bike-chain turning mechanisms, a set of binoculars, pen, notepad, chalk, cloth, observation, alertness – and a direct line to official scorer Mick.

On the day Scoreboard Pressure visited, during a one-day game, George was keeping track of each batting pair’s scores, the extras, the overs and the total. He spells out each batsman’s name with single magnetic letters, making sure he has the next batsman’s letters ready, in a small pile in a corner. (It was only a few years back every player had an individual painted board, a very time-consuming task that had to be done every game for visiting players’ names.)

One-day games have the advantage of the players wearing numbers and names on their backs, making George’s job easier.

But he also writes the players’ names, and identifying characteristics, in chalk, on the inside of the scoreboard:  ‘Quinn, curly, black sweat band’;  ‘Graham, spinner’;   ‘L/H, floppy hat’; ‘R/H, long sleeves’.

The umpires signal to both the official scorers and to the scoreboard, with George waving back in acknowledgement.

The numbers roll smoothly in the old manual scoreboard, thanks to George’s attentiveness and maintenance of the numbers rolls (recycled from the old scoreboard at Punt Rd, Richmond, apparently) and the old-fashioned bike-chain turners.

George’s match-day tasks also include sweeping the pitch and re-painting the creases.

The end is nigh for the Carlton second XI, February 2012

The MCC’s second XI official scorer, Megan, operates the new electronic board via a laptop. She has, then, three scoring mechanisms: the traditional scorebook, the laptop, and way over in the south-eastern corner of the ground, the electronic scoreboard. Megan updates the overs, the runs, the wickets and two batsmen’s scores with just a touch of the keyboard. No magnetic letters, no chalk, no chains.

Melbourne versus Essendon, 1987. Photo by Jeff Lawton.

The photo above was taken 25 years ago, with the home team in a sound position. The photo was probably taken at the tea break, with the curator, on the right,  returning from sweeping the pitch. The scoreboard was moved in the early 1990s to its current position on the eastern side of the ground.

On the far-right edge of Jeff’s photo is a glimpse of what was the clubrooms for The Victorian Light Car Club from 1961 to 1993. The club staged the first Australian Grand Prix, at Phillip Island, in 1928. The clubrooms, previously for members of the Albert Park Golf Club, were demolished in 1993, just after The Victorian Light Car Club disbanded after major losses incurred by the running of the 1988 Sandown 1000.

But the legacy of the Light Car Club lives on. Every year since 1996 the Australian Grand Prix comes to town in mid-March and Formula One cars roar round and round Albert Park Lake. There is no cricket at the Albert Ground that weekend.

The Albert ground is hemmed in by five lanes of Queens Road on the west and the lanes and service roads and tram lines of St Kilda Road on the east. It is dwarfed north and south by apartments. But inside its quiet and green and calm, just the spot for high quality cricket.

The MCC has been home to many Test players, including: Fred ‘Demon’ Spofforth, Jack Blackham, Warwick Armstrong, Bert Ironmonger, Hugh Trumble, Vernon Ransford, Bill Ponsford, Keith Rigg, Colin McDonald, Lindsay Kline, Paul Sheahan, Max Walker, Dean Jones and Brad Hodge. The first XI’s last premiership was 2009/2010.

But cricket is just one of several sports that have been played here.

In the late 19th century the ground was known as the Warehousemen’s Ground. Historian Geoffrey Blainey noted that ‘the Warehousemen took to the [football] field in 1865. Warehousemen were the gentlemanly version of the present Storemen and Packers, and worked for importing firms whose warehouses full of English hardware and textiles stood in Flinders Lane near the riverside wharves’.

The ground hosted cycling events in the 1880s, including a 25 mile race in 1880 hosted by the Melbourne Bicycle Club.

A Prahran football team (not the VFA Prahran) played at the ground in 1886, before playing at Wesley College for a year. In 1888 it merged with St Kilda Football Club whose home ground until 1965 was just a kilometre up the road at the Junction Oval.

Three years later the Melbourne Cricket Club started using the ground. The MCC’s annual report of 1890-91 stated: ‘Satisfactory arrangements have been made with the Trustees of the Warehousemen’s Cricket Ground for the Melbourne Cricket Club to have joint occupancy of the ground for its cricket, baseball and football teams, for a term of years. The consequent expenditure upon the ground has amounted to £460.18s.4d.’

One of the eminent cricket journalists of the time, Tommy Horan, was more specific about the length of the agreement: ‘The present tenure is for 10 years, with the option of extending to 21 years, and thereafter to another 21 years.’

‘The MCC lost no time in re-developing the ground,’ wrote Alf Batchelder in his 2005 history of the Melbourne Cricket Club. ‘A curator was appointed, a hundred loads of topsoil were brought in, the fences relocated, sections of the ground were ploughed and harrowed…the committee granted use of the ground to the South Yarra Athletic Club for cycling training and to the Hawksburn Cricket Club for practice sessions.

‘When rain hindered top-dressing of the MCG in 1890 the club played the first cricket match of the season at the Warehousemen’s ground. In 1891 the Victorian Football Association scheduled three matches involving Melbourne and Carlton at the ground.’

The MCC staged the first Australasian Tennis Championships (later called the Australian Open) at the ground in 1905. The Warehousemen’s Cricket Ground was named the Albert Cricket Ground in 1908, the same year it hosted Australasia (New Zealand and Australia) defeating the United States 3-2 in a Davis Cup Challenge match.

There are now two MCC en-tout-cas courts at the scoreboards corner of the ground and nine private synthetic blue courts at the northern or city end of the ground. These courts are part of a business called, simply, Tennis World. (You can sit by the sightscreen and watch the cricket as you listen to the pop and thwack of tennis balls being whacked behind you. And to rather loud announcements: ‘Teghan and Beaugh, you are due on court five in two minutes.’ )

The Melbourne Cricket Club Baseball Club played at the Albert Ground each winter from the 1890s to 1976 but when the Victorian Baseball Association decided to play its seasons in summer, something had to give. After 86 years the MCC Baseball Club became the Melbourne Baseball Club, and moved to Stradbroke Park, Kew. ‘Our parting with the MCC was amicable,’ said the aptly-named secretary of the time, Murray Fielder. Nowadays the Melbourne Baseball Club is again under the umbrella of the MCC. It plays in Box Hill.

The MCC’s lacrosse teams started playing there in the 1896 and still play there in winter. Its last premiership, after nearly 80 years, was in 2005.

Sources:

A Game of One’s Own, The Origins of Australian Football, Geoffrey Blainey 1990, Information Australia/National Australian Football Council

Pavilions in the Park, A history of the MCC and its Ground, Alf Batchelder 2005,  Melbourne Scholarly Publishing

Football Grounds of Melbourne, Santo Caruso, Jim Main, Marc Fiddian, 2003, Pennon Publishing

Thanks to Melbourne Cricket Club Library

mcc.org.au 

The Warehousemen’s Ground via the State Library:

1880 etching of 25 mile cycling race

The Albert ground via Flickr:

The Brisbane Lions’ training run just before the 2002 Grand Final

An aerial view taken in 2008

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