The biggest Indigenous cricket event on the Australian calendar is being held in Alice Springs this week.
The annual Imparja Cup will run until Saturday (February 11) and involve major community and school teams from across the country.
At the same time, the National Indigenous Cricket Championships will see seven men’s and five women’s state and territory teams compete for this year’s title.
The championships, now in their second year, will culminate with the finals on Monday (February 13).
Increasing participation rates are fueling the popularity of cricket as an Indigenous sport.
Cricket Australia said 36,900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders played cricket in the 2015-16 season — up 40 percent on the previous year and an increase of more than 27,000 players since the 2012-14 season.
Cricket Australia chairman David Peever said the organisation wanted to create sporting pathways for Indigenous players.
He said players such as Faith Thomas, who became the first Indigenous woman to play for Australia after being selected in 1958, former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie and current player Dan Christian had helped pave the way.
“This season, Indigenous players had a huge impact in the Toyota Futures League, Matador Cup, KFC Big Bash League and the Rebel WBBL,” Mr Peever said.
“Names like Ash Gardener, Hayley Hoffmeister, D’Arcy Short and Dan Christian among others became household names in Australian lounge rooms over summer.”
He said the National Indigenous Cricket Championships were created to further the development of Indigenous players.
Next year women’s and men’s national Indigenous teams will replicate the steps of an 1868 Aboriginal team that toured England.
The 150th anniversary of that team was celebrated at the MCG last year.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM DAY ONE (MONDAY) OF THE NATIONAL INDIGENOUS CRICKET CHAMPIONSHIPS
New South Wales, Victoria, and the Northern Territory all began their 2017 National Indigenous Cricket Championship (NICC) campaigns on a positive note with victories on the first day.
In a rematch of last year’s NICC grand final, NSW faced Queensland at Traeger Park, with the New South Welshmen repeating their success from last year despite a spirited bowling effort by Queensland.
Having won the toss and elected to bat first, Queensland opening batter Preston White’s 50 off 63 balls was the highlight of an innings that otherwise saw wickets falling at regular intervals thanks to an impressive bowling effort from New South Wales’ Ben Mitchell (4/10) and supported by Djali Bloomfield (2/15) and Jonte Pattison (2/18). A rear-guard action led by Sam Doggett (32) helped the Queenslanders to 127 runs for their innings.
While NSW suffered the loss of wickets early in the chase, a third wicket partnership of 44 between Nathan Price and Brendan Smith put their side in a strong position. Despite a five-wicket haul from Warrin Williams (5/29) putting a Queensland victory within grasp, NSW reached the total in the 44th over at nine wickets down.
At Albrecht Oval, Victoria won the toss and sent WA in to bat first on a green wicket, a decision that appeared to have paid off when the batting side were restricted to just 91 runs.
Despite fighting efforts from Bevan Bennell (22) and captain Michael Bailey (22), WA was unable to build momentum in its batting inning thanks to the controlled bowling of the Victorian attack, led by Josh Eaton (3/23).
In response, a patient 35 from opening batter Daniel Mock laid the base for Victoria’s chase and despite impressive bowling by WA’s Jay Collard (3/14) and Zaine Atwell (3/0), the Victorians reached the target at eight wickets down in the 32nd over.
The third match of the day saw the NT take on South Australia at Jim McConville Park in a match reduced to 41 overs per side due to wet playing conditions at the original start time. Sent in to bat by SA, the NT reached a total of 197 in their overs. In response, South Australia lost wickets at regular intervals to be all out for 83.
The NICC continued today (Tues) with WA taking on NSW at Traeger Park, Queensland and Victoria facing off at Albrecht Park, and Tasmania playing their first match of this year’s competition against the NT at Jim McConville Park.