Sat. Jan 16th, 2021
Cricketers forced to drive for hours from Sydney's west to follow their 'religion'

Bharath Gowda loves playing cricket. He just wishes it was easier to find space to play it.

The 36-year-old, who migrated to Australia from India four years ago, says while cricket has always been a big part of his life, it’s harder than ever to find space to play in Sydney’s west.

This summer, Mr Gowda says space is so tight, he has been forced to travel over an hour from his home in Kellyville in Sydney’s north west to fields in the city’s south for a weekend match.

The opening batsman says the long commute to Carss Park Flats was his only option given there are no closer grounds available.

“I did look for cricket fields from Kellyville to Marsden Park, which is a good 15 kilometres away, but neither had any grounds,” he said.

“And I looked around Blacktown, I hardly found anything over there either.”

Mr Gowda’s teammate Mannatjot Singh also drives an hour each way, from his home in Baulkham Hills to Carss Park, to play as part of the South Hurstville Carss Park cricket team.

Mannatjot Singh says he looks forward to his Saturday cricket match despite the commute. (ABC News: Jack Fisher)

The fast bowler says the few clubs located closer to his home in Western Sydney only cater for high-grade cricketers — not social players like himself — forcing him to make the lengthy journey.

“It can be quite stressful to drive such a long way just to play one game of cricket,” says the 20-year-old IT student, who arrived in Sydney from New Delhi a year ago.

“It is quite difficult to find a place to play. A lot of people have this problem.”

While the pair lament the lack of space for community cricket in Sydney’s west, the number of participants playing community cricket is on the rise.

According to the latest NSW Cricket statistics, participation rose 12.3 per cent to 493,121 over the 2019-2020 season, up from 439,306 the previous season.

The number of young people registered surged 34 per cent last season to 16,001.

Suburbs ‘purely built for housing’

The men cheer on members of the South Hurstville Carss Park cricket team. (ABC News: Jack Fisher)

Mr Gowda isn’t surprised at cricket’s increasing popularity, pointing to the passion for the game among Western Sydney’s growing Indian community.

“Cricket is a big deal in the Indian community. You can call it a religion,” he said.

Mr Gowda hopes new residential developments in the region will include designated cricket grounds so more people aren’t forced to scramble for places to play.

He would also like to see recently-completed developments in areas such as Schofields, the Ponds and Riverstone, make more space for cricket.

“What I see around my house are streets and streets of concrete replacing the horse farms, but I hardly see a place where people can come with their kids to play cricket,” he said.

“When I look at the inner-west suburbs, they have a pretty big, well-developed space for quite a lot of sports, they even have cricket grounds.

“But the suburbs [near my place in Kellyville] are purely built for housing, that’s it, nothing more.”

The cricket team train at Carss Park Flats. (ABC News: Jack Fisher)

The NSW Government said it was helping to build training and playing facilities for more than 35,000 club and community cricketers across Sydney.

It is contributing $30 million to the Cricket NSW Cricket Centre of Excellence at Wilson Park near Silverwater, due to be opened in 2022.

It has recently supported multi-sports fields in the Hills Shire, the first stage of the Fergusons Land Premier Cricket Facility in Camden.

Planning and design for three full-size cricket ovals as part of the Nepean River Trail West masterplan is underway, a spokesperson for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said in a statement.

For Mannatjot Singh, even though it’s a long drive to get on the field each Saturday, it’s still worth the effort.

“It’s the day I look forward to the most.”

Mr Singh and Mr Gowda say clubs closer to their homes cater for high-grade players.(ABC News: Jack Fisher)
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