Cricket Australia (CA) has a national Indigenous cricket strategy and reconciliation action plan. However, it might still take cult heroes such as Scott Boland to maximize the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in cricket.
The strategy covers areas ranging from high performance to grassroots participation. It includes formal partnerships with Clontarf and Stars Foundation, as well as specialist staff dedicated to the growth and participation of cricket for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Regrettably, the sport has yet to foster a significant Aboriginal presence, like in the national rugby league and Australian rules football competitions. Up to 10% of players in the Australian Football League are of Aboriginal heritage.
Local all-indigenous cricket matches, headlined by the recent Bullinah Bears and Lismore Boomerangs clashed last Wednesday. It showcased the opportunity for young Indigenous cricketers to go and show off their skills.
This particular match at Fripp Oval in Ballina on the north coast of New South Wales acts as a blueprint on how to increase Indigenous participation in the game. It provides CA the scope for scheduling more Indigenous-only affairs.
There is bound to be a ton of unrecognized Indigenous talent that rivals the football codes, but barriers to participation in traditional club cricket still exist.
In a report by Melbourne newspaper The Herald Sun, Ballina Bears president Phillip Melville said the Bears-Boomerangs Indigenous fixture aims to address the pitfalls in accessing the game.
"What we’re trying to achieve is Little Johnny from out the back of Tabulam, that bowls 145km/h but doesn’t want to play in Casino – he just doesn’t want to play (club cricket) – but he’ll play for his people," he said speaking to the Herald Sun.
"He can rock along to Fripp Oval an indigenous knockout and the Cricket Australia Indigenous cricket selectors can say, ‘holy s***, where’s he from,’ and he could be the next Scotty Boland.”
According to the national Indigenous cricket strategy, in 2017/18, 2.8% of Australia's 389,657 registered club cricketers identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, up from 2% in 2014/15. However, that figure has not budged in the last four seasons - acknolwedging the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boland and Jason Gillespie can be icons for the aspiring Aboriginal cricketers
Boland, a proud Gulidjan man from Victoria, is an inspiration to all on the field. A kind, well-mannered, respectful bloke who represents his culture and where he comes from.
Recognizing and celebrating Boland's heritage reflects the efforts of modern-day reconciliation by large portions of Australian society. Boland was also selected for a historic tour of Indigenous players in 2018 - honoring the feats of Mullagh and the 1868 team.
Jason Gillespie was the first Indigenous Australian to play Test cricket for Australia. But his status as the first Aboriginal Test player was not revealed ahead of his debut in 1996. The fast bowler took 259 Test wickets from 71 matches and is the ninth highest wicket-taker of all time for Australia in Tests.
But it wasn't until cricket journalist Robert Craddock outlined the achievement two years later.
"He wrote an article a couple of years after my Test and one-day debuts saying that I'm the first acknowledged Indigenous cricketer, Aboriginal cricketer, for Australia," Gillespie told the ABC this month.
The former Aussie pacer added:
"Because it wasn't acknowledged when I first played for Australia, it became a big news story."
It is hoped Boland's heroics in the recent MCG Test match could be the 'Cathy Freeman' moment in cricket. He provides a figure with whom young Aboriginal cricketers can identify.
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