Photo feature

Birds of play

It's open season for feathered friends

Deepti Unni  |  

Everyone needs a drink and a towel after an exhausting game of cricket

Everyone needs a drink and a towel after an exhausting game of cricket © Getty Images

As the Australian summer rolls around and Cricket Australia mulls letting more spectators into stadiums, one set of feathered fans is guaranteed the best seats in the house. Australia's seagulls have long been iconic denizens of its cricket fields, and have regularly interrupted cricket and AFL matches despite the authorities' best efforts to keep them away.

So one minute you could be rolling your arm over in a placid Sheffield Shield game...

There are a few too many fielders in this Tasmania vs Victoria match

There are a few too many fielders in this Tasmania vs Victoria match © Getty Images

... and find yourself in a Hitchcockian horror movie the next.

It's a flocking pitch invasion

It's a flocking pitch invasion © Getty Images

They may be a beloved part of the cricket aesthetic, but gulls are also known troublemakers. In 2017, a second-team game between Somerset and Essex had to be called off after gulls tore through the covers, looking for worms during a rain break, and caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the pitch.

They have become enough of a nuisance that the MCG was forced to hire the services of two wedge-tail eagles, Zorro and Sabrina, to keep the gulls off the ground during the 2015 World Cup. By a happy accident, stadiums have also discovered that a regular bit of cricket tech works as a seagull deterrent - the Spidercam. Drones, though, are fair game for the birds.

Playing in a stadium near you: the drone wars, starring Steven Seagull

Playing in a stadium near you: the drone wars, starring Steven Seagull © Getty Images

Now here's a sight to send chills down the spine of any batsman.

Sometimes you're out for a duck, sometimes the ducks are out for you

Sometimes you're out for a duck, sometimes the ducks are out for you © Getty Images

Birds are also known to be keen autograph hunters.

"Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and saviour Crowthulhu?" © Getty Images

And it isn't just garden-variety fowl that stray on to the cricket pitch.

Surrey's Scott Newman eyes the long tail of the opposition

Surrey's Scott Newman eyes the long tail of the opposition © Getty Images

Newlands in South Africa got an unofficial mascot when Harry the Hadeda and his girlfriend took a shine to the ground. Harry first made an appearance during the second Test in 2020, and showed up every day dutifully to patrol the ground, never mind that there were 150kph balls whizzing around. The raucous hadeda ibises aren't among South Africa's most loved birds, thanks to their ear-shattering screeching calls, but Harry the Hadeda is now a viral sensation and even has his own Twitter account where he posts memes, musings and match analyses.

Harry the Newlands hadeda works on his pitch report during the South Africa vs England Test earlier this year

Harry the Newlands hadeda works on his pitch report during the South Africa vs England Test earlier this year © Getty Images

It isn't always fun and games, though. Occasionally, birds find themselves in the path of the cricket ball and it doesn't always end well. In 2009, Jacques Rudolph's powerful throw from the boundary during a county game felled an unfortunate pigeon at Headingley. During the 1999 World Cup, it was game over for two pigeons in the same match - Australia vs India at the Oval - when one caught a Paul Reiffel throw from the deep and another one an edge from Ajay Jadeja.

The most famous of these, though, is a sparrow struck down by Jahangir Khan during a match between the MCC and Cambridge University in 1936. The late sparrow was stuffed and mounted on a plinth on the very ball that caused its demise, and now lives in the MCC Museum at Lord's, making occasional flying visits in its afterlife to various natural history museums.

Sachin Tendulkar hit a pigeon during a match against Sri Lanka in the 2002 NatWest series at the Oval, but the bird lived to tell the tale

Sachin Tendulkar hit a pigeon during a match against Sri Lanka in the 2002 NatWest series at the Oval, but the bird lived to tell the tale © Getty Images

But birds are more resilient than we give them credit for: case in point Sammy the Seagull, who took a ball to the head during a BBL match, but was able to clear his concussion tests and return to the game in record time, becoming a mini celebrity in the process.

Deepti Unni is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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