Sydney Sixers show class on and off field
TEN thousand North Coast cricket fans were treated to a first class display from the Sydney Sixers in their seven-wicket win over Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League match at Coffs Harbour on Sunday night. But it was the team's visit to fire-ravaged Nymboida that left an indelible mark on the community.
On Saturday morning Sixers players and staff met displaced residents and volunteers at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre, where a camp has been established, then visited the property of Michael Rook, who lost his home in the November 8 blaze.
"It was incredibly moving and sad to see the devastation at Nymboida," Sixers batsman Jordan Silk said.
"To see first-hand, standing where the living room used to be, and it's just rubble, it really hits home about what people have lost at this time.
"When you see it on the local news it doesn't seem as real, you can't really imagine what it's like."
The 27-year-old said it helped put things in perspective as a professional cricketer.
"We're so lucky to play cricket, but in the grand scheme of things it's just a game, and people are fighting life and death to keep their homes, and to keep this country as safe as possible," he said.
"Busy schedule or not, we can make time for these things and talk to the local people."
Throughout the summer many cricketers have pledged donations to various bushfire relief organisations through their on-field feats such as sixes hit or wickets taken. This week Shane Warne decided to auction his baggy green cap he wore in his 145 Tests for Australia to the cause, with the highest bid currently at $315,500.
The Sixers used their Nymboida visit to show their support for Blaze Aid, a volunteer-based organisation who work with families and individuals in rural Australia after natural disasters such as fires and floods, and currently have about a dozen volunteers stationed at Nymboida.
"There are just so many good people in Australia," Silk said.
"Through the Blaze Aid volunteers we certainly saw the good in people.
"A massive thank you to those people who give up their own time to help out in these areas that have devastated."
On the field, the Sixers and Strikers produced a top draw clash for the first Big Bash League match to be played at C.Ex International Stadium.
The Strikers batted first and jumped out of the blocks with English import Phil Salt blasting 25 off 13 balls before Test bowler Josh Hazlewood (1 for 18 off 4) steadied the ship for the Sixers in his return from injury.
A classy knock from Jono Wells (40no off 28) and cameos from Michael Neser (25 off 15) and Rashid Khan (14no off 6) bumped the Strikers' total up to 6 for 176 off their 20 overs.
The run chase, led by rising star Josh Phillippe (83no off 52), always looked an uphill battle until 21 runs from Neser's penultimate over tipped the match in the Sixers' favour. Tom Curran (10no off 3) smashed a straight six to wrap up victory with three balls to spare.
The high-scoring affair was the perfect advertisement for the regional host venue.
"I couldn't speak highly enough of the ground itself," Silk said. "The outfield was terrific, pitch was fantastic.
"It was on par with a lot of the first class facilities we've played at.
"For two teams to make 175 plus is what you're after in T20 cricket."
The official crowd of 9,834 was the most for a cricket match and second biggest ever at the venue, behind the 10,838 who attended the 2013 NRL trial between South Rabbitohs and Newcastle Knights.
Coutts Crossing Cricket Club president and GDSC Premier League player Andrew McLachlan and his family travelled down the highway from Grafton to be enjoy the buzzing atmosphere.
Apart from taking 45 minutes to get into the venue, McLachlan could not fault the experience.
"If we don't support events like this they're never going to come back, so it was great to see 10,000 people down there including a huge amount of Grafton people," McLachlan said.
"It was an awesome atmosphere. We had a nice night on the hill, with plenty for the kids to do.
"In my working life, I don't get the chance to travel away to watch cricket games anymore, so it was nice to get to see the guys you see on TV.
"All the kids were all so enthralled with the whole night. It's a chance they don't get very often, so it was awesome to see the time and effort the players put in afterwards.
"The players had a great attitude towards it."
As for the prospect of facing up to the likes of Hazlewood and co?
"Watching those bowlers last night, I don't think too many of our guys would want to face up to that," he said.
Silk said it was obvious from the response from the crowd how much it meant to the region to host such a major sporting event.
"To bring a fixture up here was really special, and you could tell even after the game how pumped everyone was," Silk said. "We were back signing autographs for the kids for ages after the game.
"It's something the Big Bash has done really well in the last few years to take games out to regional areas."
The win cemented the Sixers' second-placed position on the BBL09 ladder with five wins from seven matches.
The squad flew out of Coffs Harbour on Monday morning via Sydney to Adelaide, where they will face a rematch with the Strikers on their home turf at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night.
"We're in a great place," Silk said. "If we can manage to knock them off again it will really set us up for a finals berth.
"But they're back in front of their home fans on a ground they play really good at. They're a quality outfit. We're two teams that I think will feature heavily at the end of the year and playing with a fair bit of confidence, so it'll be another good game."