12 July 2023

'100 per cent he's out, mate!' Backyard Ashes director weighs in on cricket's greatest rivalry

| Jarryd Rowley
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Backyard Ashes is a film that has etched itself into Wagga’s history. Now with the Ashes at the height of popularity in the cricket world, we at Region asked director Mark Grentell for his opinion about the dramatic Test series. Photo: Supplied.

Cricket is embedded into the DNA of Wagga Wagga.

Between home-grown Aussie heroes in Mark Taylor, Geoff Lawson, Michael Slater and both Alex and Kate Blackwell, Wagga Wagga has never been short of cricketing talent.

In 2013, Wagga cemented itself as a cricket-mad town when director Mark Grentell and producer Peter Cox created the much-beloved film Backyard Ashes.

“Wagga Wagga has always had a huge sporting culture,” Grentell said.

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“Sport is the thing to see and do in the Riverina, especially Wagga. It’s pretty hard to find another town that has the history and connection to the sport of cricket.

“You hear about Wagga and you think about Geoff Lawson and Mark Taylor. That was one of the real driving forces in bringing the film to town.”

Grentell and Cox’s film involves two next-door neighbours, one a blue-collar Aussie bogan and the other an uptight whinging Pom, battling it out in a game of backyard cricket following the incineration of a prized cat.

The film perfectly encapsulates the over-the-top rivalry of the Ashes, but brings to it a setting that almost every Australian can relate to, with humour that is silly yet heartwarming.

“Cricket has a really complex and fun history for both countries,” Grentell said.

“Any little bit of niggle between countries just adds to the rivalry. It writes an excellent narrative and builds a bit of pent-up energy between both nations.”

Moving forward to July 2023, the Ashes is at peak interest for the people of Wagga and cricket fans worldwide.

two Australian Test cricketers

Aussie captain Pat Cummins (right) and off-spinner Nathan Lyon stole victory from the English in the first Test at Edgbaston. Photo: Australian Men’s Cricket Team Facebook.

Australia is fresh from winning the World Test Championship, its third major trophy since 2025, and England has ”reinvented” Test cricket with its breakneck pace approach, known as BazBall, which has seen that country win 13 of 15 matches leading into the series.

At the time of writing, the series currently sits with Australia winning the first two matches at Edgbaston and Lord’s, while England has won the third Test at Headingley.

All three matches have been incredible spectacles for the viewers.

The first at Edgbaston saw Australia captain Pat Cummins and off-spinner Nathan Lyon put on a partnership of 60 runs in the dying minutes of day five to steal an almost certain win from England.

Grentell said he was watching the first match with ”Coxy” (Peter Cox), and as two people who love theatre, it couldn’t have been any better than what unfolded.

“There was so much drama, so much action, and as a lover of cricket, there’s no better feeling than both teams still being in it on the final session of the final day of play,” Grentell said.

The second match, at Lord’s, saw the Australians booed out of the ground by members of the MCC (Maryleborough Cricket Club), arguably the most prestigious membership in sport, after Alex Carey wrote himself into Ashes folklore by controversially stumping rival keeper Johnny Bairstow, ultimately helping the Aussies win the match by 40-odd runs.

Ashes cricket Test stumping

The controversial Bairstow dismissal has been one of the biggest talking points of the series. Photo: Supplied.

The controversial dismissal caused an uproar from Australian and English fans alike.

English coach Brendon McCullum raised questions about whether the dismissal was within the spirit of the game.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made public comments about not wanting to win in that manner. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese replied with a tweet simply stating: “Same old Aussies, always winning.”

We At Region asked Grentell about his opinion on the controversial dismissal, to which he replied bluntly: “100 per cent he’s out, mate.”

“In backyard cricket, everyone has their own rules and their own interpretation, but here there is no doubt about it. He walked out of his crease, the stumps got hit and he’s out.”

With the Aussies leading 2-0 after the second Test, it was up to the English to keep the series alive.

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After four days of back-and-forth cricket, it was England firebrand bowler Mason Wood and young hard-hitting Harry Brooks who were the heroes at Headingley, giving the series a 2-1 scoreline in favour of the Australians.

With two Tests remaining, there is still a feeling that the English can claw back and win the Ashes. But if Australia can find a way to win one more match, it will be the first Aussie series win in England since Steve Waugh’s squad won in 2001.

Grentell said there was nothing like the theatre of sport. Although he clearly wants the Aussies to win in the next two matches, he can’t deny the cinema-like appeal of the series so far.

“I can’t decide whether I want just a tail-ender blocking every delivery for the last two and a half hours of the Test or one of the Aussie bowlers, maybe Pat Cummins or Mitch Starc, steaming in and smashing the stumps apart to win it all,” he said.

“Either way, hopefully, we see more drama in the last two Tests, ultimately with Australia lifting the little urn.”

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