It is a great honour to speak today, and I thank Sgt Moffat and The Shrine for the privilege.
Cricket is a game of character.
Although to some, it is just a game with two teams of 11 players, to the die hard cricket lover, it is much more than a sport: it is an international language, some might say religion, played from the back slum alleyways and back yards of suburban cities to the “sacred grounds” of Lords and the MCG. Its Code of Conduct is much more than a set of rules governing its play. Cricket’s rules are called “The Spirit of Cricket” which indicates to many the sacred nature of the of the ebb and flow and dance of chess pieces in white which is the game, some might say Religion, of cricket. As Matthew Hayden so eloquently states: “I have seen God, and he bats number four for India.” Or a banner at the SCG which read: “Commit all your crimes when Sachin is batting. They will go unnoticed for even the Lord is busy watching him.”
Other Saints of Cricket are Sir Donald Bradman, immortalized in his average of 99.94, which is somehow a more powerful number than a century. And, in is time, and in his somewhat outlandish ways, the great 19th Century batsman, WG Grace, who played First Class Cricket for a record breaking 44 seasons from 1864-1908.
Today we are here to acknowledge and celebrate the role cricket played in the service story of Sgt Moffat and his fellow soldiers in Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. In the over 1000 days in active combat that Sgt Moffat served in these three theatres of war, cricket was more than a pastime and a hobby, it was a point of reference, a vehicle of intelligence finding, a solid rock of tradition in an ocean of uncertainty and danger and, maybe even a talisman of luck.
Outside the walls of The Shrine, to the East, the Anzac Spirit is so poignantly defined:
“Anzac is not merely about loss. It is about courage and endurance, duty and love of country, and mateship, and good humour, and survival of a sense of self worth and decency in the face of dreadful odds.”
Sgt Moffat’s bats hold within them the stories of the Anzac Spirit. They have been played, signed and used by well known Australians from the Governor General to the Prime Minister but, more importantly, they have been used in games with fallen soldiers and mates. They hold within them the stories of the qualities of the Anzac Spirit.
Loss: the first sacrifice that a soldier makes is leaving behind his partner and family—for up to six months at a time; or, to put in in another context, a whole cricket season. For this six months, the Moffat family, playing at the MCG, the Moffat Cricket Ground, would be without their Captain.
These bats also tell the story of loss of fellow soldiers. Sgt Moffat tells the story that after one particularly dreadful day Australian deaths, he sought special permission to play cricket the following day. Here cricket played the role of uniting a grieving group.
Courage: In Afghanistan, where Australian soldiers were tasked with winning the hearts and minds of the Afghani people in their quest for civil society and the freedom from the dogma of the Taliban, cricket was used as one of the vehicles of engagement. (The Afghani people first came into contact with cricket in the refugee camps of Pakistan.) You place yourself in a vulnerable position playing cricket out in the open with the Taliban commenting on your prowess from the hills above. There is also the greater issue of actually identifying who is your enemy and who is your friend.
Endurance: Test Cricket is the only game which takes five days to complete. There are the military parallels in that it is a game of strategy where the task of winning is divided up into small plans of attack: one bowler to one batsman, one keeper behind the stumps voicing propaganda to the adversary. There may be long passages of play where nothing much happens, interspersed with short bursts of action. One of the most famous of these cricket battles of endurance was during the Australia Pakistan match in Hobart in 1999 when Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist scripted what has been called “The Great Escape” by cricket writer Jaideep Vaidya who wrote that Langer and Gilchrist “joined hands in an epic final day’s battle against Wasim Akram, Wacqua Unis, Shoab Akhtar and Sacqulain Mushtak to chase down 369 in the fourth innings.” Vaidya writes: “Langer and Gilchrist had thus given other teams the belief that such a mammoth total can be overcome, and it was this belief that sparked Australia’s rise to the summit of world cricket in the following decade.”
Duty: cricket is a game of intricate and subtle rules. Those that play the game have the responsibility to show faithfulness and reverence to the Spirit of the Game. Bringing the game into disrepute is the cardinal sin.
In the word of God’s Cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, “ Before you lay a foundation on the cricket field, there should be a solid foundation in your heart, and you start building on that.”
Love of Country: the sounds of the Australian summer is the sound of cricket on the radio. The Australian religious festival of Christmas is followed by the other great religious festival celebrated on Boxing Day at the MCG. Here the acolytes of the game come to break bread—sandwiches with leftover turkey and ham—and take wine—the traditional beer either in the bar of the members, or in the plastic cup down in the old Bay 13. People call, text or tweet into ABC Grandstand from all around Australia and relate how they are spending this National Day celebrated by people from all religions: on the tractor, fighting fires, fishing, camping by the Murray, or in Active Service for the Australian Armed Forces around the world playing their own Boxing Day Test. This is our day when we can reflect as a nation all that is great about Australia—freedom, democracy and the opportunity to play sport—and celebrate what being Australian stands for.
Mateship, Good Humour and the Survival of a Sense of Self Worth: cricket is a dance of friendship—sometimes your friends are your friends, and sometimes they are your opponents depending on where you are standing in the field of play as you cross the white line. The game is a timeless bonding experience which goes back to childhood. In cricket, everyone has their allocated place on the field and in the team. It may not seem an important place—maybe you wish to “ hide” your somewhat dodgy fielder at mid off—but then the ball will follow them every time. A catch in a critical moment can change a game. It is part of the Australian character to barrack for the underdog. Some of my favourite moments of the unexpected hero are when the tail enders bat. Here these bowlers are asked to do what their batting compatriots have failed to execute well—bat to win or save the game. Favourite examples in cricket folklore are Ashton Agar’s 98 on Test Debut in the 2013 Ashes series against England, or Glen McGrath’s 61 against New Zealand in 2004.
Decency: Test Cricket exemplifies an enduring legacy of the British Empire—the days when a third of the map was pink. At its best, the Empire represented rule of law and a civilized society.
Cricket is also a vastly powerful symbol of nationhood. Through its sport diplomacy program, the Australian Government understands the power of sport in relation to national identity and pride, as well as its role in diplomacy. Anyone who has seen the Australian produced documentary “Out of the Ashes—the Rise of the Afghani National Cricket Team” will understand how the hopes of a nation fell on the shoulders of the members of this team as they achieved success in the quest for World Cup representation in the qualifying matches in Jersey. We see in this film how, when the team returned, garlands of flowers were placed around their necks and members of the crowd fired their AK47s into the air all along the route from the airfield in celebration.
In September 2015, the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, welcomed the Afghani Men’s Team to Australia as part of a three week playing tour to Australia and New Zealand. Ms Bishop stated: “Afghanistan’s achievement of qualifying for the ICC World Cup is not only a reflection of the quality of the team, but also a testament to the spirit of the Afghani people.”
Women’s cricket in Afghanistan has not had such an easy run. Although funded by the ICC and UNICEF, the young women who wish to play the game face many hurdles. At times, it is downright dangerous to play. The young women generally do not feel comfortable playing in front of men. In their quest to play undisturbed, the women have, at times, used the National Stadium: the scene of Taliban executions as described in the book “The Kite Runner.”
I had the great joy of going to the Junction Oval to watch the Afghani National Team take on the United Arab Emirates team in a practice match before the World Cup. It was a wonderful day of celebration with Afghan Australians declaring the day a national holiday and coming down to the ground—many in national costume and waving the Afghani flag. I attended the game with several women who work with me on the tours with Cricket Without Borders. We stood out somewhat in a sea of men, and thus were singled out for a radio interview with SBS Afghani Radio. There I was asked what we were doing at the ground. I responded by saying to watch the game. My interviewer was incredulous that we, I am assuming he meant women, should want to do this. Once we spoke of cricket, however, we were on common ground. In many ways, this match is a message of some of the success of the work of the Australian Service men and women in Afghanistan.
Sgt Moffat’s bats, and their stories are, in many ways, the first stage of creating civil society and nationhood. In my role with Cricket Without Borders, I see how powerful a tool it can be to teach the game of cricket to girls and young women. Often it is only their brothers who have the opportunity to play and, if they are lucky enough to have sports shoes or equipment, it is always the brothers who have them. Once you give a girl an education, the next most powerful thing you can do it get her to play sport in a team. Opportunities open up through sport, and girls are afforded the time to play sport rather than looking after the family or carrying water. This is the next stage of the game.
I now take great pleasure in declaring The Soldiers’ X1 officially open, and I hand over to Sgt Moffat to open the batting.