This article was originally published on The Roar.
In this era of busy cricket schedules, it’s rare for international players to go back to playing state cricket. It is even more unusual
to take another step back to grade cricket.
With so many Test countries to tour, plenty of one-day tournaments, and in recent years the rise of T20, there’s rarely time for an
international cricketer to step back two levels.

But a rare opportunity arose on Sunday. With NSW taking a break from interstate competition while the T20 Champions League
tournament is being held (and with Michael Clarke not being involved with the Sydney Sixers) a chance came up.
And for Michael Clarke’s club, the Western Suburbs Magpies, the chance for the Australian captain to make an appearance co-
incided with the club’s 100th anniversary of playing at Pratten Park.

Pratten Park, in the back streets of Ashfield, is a smaller oval and has history behind it. Not just 100 years of cricket but rugby
league as well.
It was for many years the home ground of the Wests Magpies rugby league club, before they shifted to Lidcombe, then
Campbelltown, before being absorbed into the Wests Tigers.
There’s a grandstand in the north-west corner called the Davidson Simpson Stand. For years it had fallen into disrepair before
being restored recently.
On the south-eastern side, the scoreboard has recently been electrified. Around the western and south-eastern sides are hills,
not as big or as steep as at other venues in Sydney. But the age and architecture of the buildings makes the ground feel like a
mini Henson Park.

The Wests Cricket Club had pulled out the stops to build a sense of occasion. A raffle and silent auction of cricket memorabilia
was held.
A bouncy castle was entertaining the children, while jug band guitarists performed before and during the game with theme
music for every player. The canteen was doing a roaring trade, with sausages cooking on the barbecue and Crownies in glass
bottles refreshing the thirst of the crowd.
Perfect weather and a belter of a pitch were the conditions for the T20 clash. Clarke’s Wests team were wearing Magpie black
and white; while the visitors, Gordon, had a West Indies-style grey with maroon and green trim.

Gordon won the toss and elected to bat, James Packman opening the batting with Eccles. Packman played a few games for
NSW several years ago before falling out of favour; but in this game his early shots showed he had taken enough power to eat
whatever ghosts were haunting his form.
It didn’t take long for the score to climb to 0 for 45. But, to the delight of the local crowd, Michael Clarke came on to have a bowl.
And to their even more delight, in Clarke’s first over he enticed Packman to hit out, but the Gordon captain holed out to mid
Packman’s wicket triggered a collapse and the wickets fell with regularity. Eccles, Evans, Rosen, Smith, Colley, McDonald and
Beverley went to the pavilion as the run rate slowed. Michael Clarke got a respectable 2 for 24 from his four overs, and after
Gordon’s 20 overs were complete, the score was 8 for 133.

It didn’t look like it was going to be enough.
Any doubt that the target wasn’t enough to be competitive was quickly erased. Michael Clarke pleased the crowd by
opening but was outscored in the early overs as opening partner Di Bartolo hit a string of boundaries.
Di Bartolo departed for 29 and Michael Clarke’s man-of-the-match performance ended one run short of his half century.
Gordon leg-spinner Brendan McDonald, who had a couple of years in the South Australian training squad but was never
selected for the Redbacks, at least has the reminder on his cricketing resume that he caught and bowled the Australian

Grade cricket normally isn’t on the radar of most sports fans, with most games played in front of few people other than
parents and partners of the players. But this occasion, with a well-publicised anniversary and the appearance of the Test
captain, attracted a healthy crowd.
Admission was free, no-one was counting, while people (and dogs) were coming and going throughout the afternoon. I
would estimate the crowd was about 750, by far the biggest grade crowd for some time.
And on the hill in front of the scoreboard, a Wests’ supporting contingent, probably lower grade players, became
increasingly vocal as the afternoon drew on.

By the time Clarke was out, only a few more runs were needed and the Magpies came away with an eight-wicket win. But
the day was all about Michael Clarke, and his triumphant return home to the club where it all began for him.

Will the day lead to any long-term rise in the profile of grade cricket? I doubt it.
But for one afternoon, a historic old oval came back to life as a crowd-pulling venue. And a player who was a Pup last time
he played there returned to a hero’s welcome, cementing his status as Australian cricket’s top dog.