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Page last updated at 23:58 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 00:58 UK

Aboriginal cricketers revive history

1868 team
The indigenous team were the first ever to compete under the national banner

By Nikki Jecks
BBC World Service

As the Australian cricket team prepares for the forthcoming Ashes series against England, another Australian cricket team is already in the country - retracing the steps of its forefathers.

In 1868 a team of indigenous Australian cricketers was smuggled out of Australia to play in the UK.

It was the first team to represent Australia overseas, not just in cricket, but in any sport.

Trevor Woodhead
We're starting to see a shift now and I think that's one of the great things of creating momentum
Trevor Woodhead

But despite that auspicious start, Aboriginal cricketers have struggled ever since to make a big mark on the game.

"They were pioneers of their time, and its a shame we haven't seen a steady amount of Aboriginal cricketers playing cricket - it really dropped off in the early 1900s," Michael MacGregor, manager of the team now on its UK tour, told the BBC World Service.

"But times have changed, and hopefully we can get a few more lads playing and some girls too."

The team, aged 16-26, will be playing 11 matches over the coming weeks, on some of the same grounds that their ancestors played on.

Under-represented

One of the veterans of the indigenous cricket scene who has come over for the tour is Trevor Woodhead.

He played for many years in Australia's Northern Territory and is the only indigenous member on a cricket board anywhere in Australia.

ABORIGINES IN CRICKET
Scoreboard
There are 13,000 registered Aboriginal cricketers
Only three Aborigines have ever played first class cricket in Australia
Aborigines make up 11% of the total number of players in the Australian Football League and National Rugby League
Cricket was spread across Australia by cattle farmers more than 200 years ago

His aim is to make a career in cricket easier for the current generation than it was for him when he played 30 years ago.

"It certainly was a hard road and I played cricket in the 70s and the 80s, so it's not that long ago," he said.

"In the Northern Territory, indigenous people are 30% of the wider population. But when you looked at the cricket community we were less than 1%," he explained.

"We're starting to see a shift now and I think that's one of the great things of creating momentum - momentum is a very hard thing to get going, but once you've got it going its almost an energy that looks after itself."

Role models

At present there are few cricketing role models among indigenous Australians.

Fast bowler Jason Gillespie, who was selected in the team that contested the last Ashes series in England in 2005, is the only indigenous player to play for the national team since World War II.

"You find a lot of indigenous kids playing in the school playground," says Peter O'Callaghan, one of the oldest players in the touring Aboriginal team.

"But once they hit 12 to 14 they start to think for themselves a bit more... and they see these football idols - your Aussie Rules players, your rugby league players and your boxers and that sort of thing," he said.

"There's not really one person at the top of cricket who they can idolise and replicate, so I think that's part of the reason."

The first team to tour England won only 14 of 47 games against their hosts.

This current team are hoping they can reverse the fortunes of their forefathers by not just winning more games, but also by increasing the popularity of the game amongst indigenous youth.



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