IT can be difficult to see where the oval ends and the bush begins at Kingower Cricket Club.
When the season starts in October, the oval has a mostly green colour following the winter rains.
A few months later, it resembles a dust bowl where corellas dig holes and kangaroos cut up the surface. Weeds grow here and there, and there’s small patches of grass, but it’s mostly dry dirt.
The outfield blends in well with the woodland surrounds. Fielders contend with unusual bounces and gather dirt stains on their whites as they give chase in the field.
But it doesn’t stop Kingower – one of the Upper Loddon Cricket Assocation’s most successful clubs of the last 20 years – from taking to the field for home games every summer.
They’ve done it for more than 150 years, after all.
Club treasurer Michael Rose has a special job at training each week. He walks the outfield and fills in the holes left by the visiting wildlife.
At the moment, corellas are the bane of the club’s existence – like they are for a range of sporting clubs in the Loddon, Wimmera and Mallee.
“I tell you, I would love to get rid of those corellas. They give it hell during the season,” Mr Rose said.
“But there’s not much you can do with the surface.
“You don’t get too many complaints from the opposition. They know that the ground is the way it is.
“Sometimes the ball will bounce at a funny angle, but it’s the same for both sides.”
The club relies on run-off water from the neighbouring bush to keep the remaining grass alive, but it’s a constant struggle to provide a suitable playing surface week-in week-out.
The Kingower Recreation Reserve is a far cry from the lush, well-manicured cricket ovals of Bendigo just 50 kilometres away.
Even after the steady demise of the Kingower township, the club manages to field a senior and junior side each season, relying on players from Inglewood keen to keep the club’s proud tradition alive.
They’re a “district” club now, rather than a “town”.
The junior team has players ranging in age from nine to 17. They were also the first team to have a girl as captain, and encourage girls to participate as much as possible.
This season they have three girls taking to the field.
The juniors also regularly move on to the senior side. A few years ago, just one senior player hadn’t come from the juniors.
Kingower’s opponents in the Upper Loddon league – such as Newbridge, Bridgewater, Serpentine and Boort Yando – share their facilities with schools or other sporting clubs, primarily football.
It means their playing surfaces can be kept in better condition as clubs pool resources.
Mr Rose said having a standalone cricket club in the bush was rare for country Victoria, and it was a source of pride for Kingower. He described their home ground as “the most picturesque ground in Australia”.
“We have a great committee that put in a lot of hours to making sure the club keeps on going,” he said.
“All that the players have to do is turn up and play the game.
“We try to make sure it’s a relaxed atmosphere and we can all have a bit of fun on the weekend.”
When Moliagul Cricket Club folded a few years ago, and Woodstock folded about 20 years ago, there were just two bush cricket clubs left in the league playing on their own ovals: Kingower, and Arnold Cricket Club.
And, perhaps remarkably, the two sides are battling out the Upper Loddon grand final for 2017/18 after finishing the season in first and second in the eight-team competition.
Arnold Cricket Club secretary Linda Younghusband said the club was in a similar situation to Kingower where the oval deteriorated over the summer months.
“It’s a very unique club. People look at you silly when you say you play cricket on an oval with no grass,” she said.
“There’s a bit of grass at the start of the season, but by the end there’s very little left.
“I’ve had to learn how to wash out brown dirt from cricket whites over the years.
“We’re a club that struggles on a bit at times, but we’re proud of what we’re able to achieve.”
The 2011 floods added to the woes at Arnold.
As the playing surface was washed away, it was replaced by sand and other debris which made it increasingly difficult to grow grass.
Kangaroos also regularly converge on the oval.
Despite the challenges, Ms Younghusband said the club committee enjoyed making sure there was a team and a suitable surface for cricket each week.
“It’s something for some of the older residents around here to do on a weekend, to come down to the oval and have a look at the team playing,” she said.
“It keeps that sense of community alive in Arnold.”
Since the league was established in 1954/55, Arnold have won six premierships. Their last was in 1999 when they completed a hattrick.
Kingower have won three premierships.
The ‘Gower have reached 11 of the past 16 grand finals, but only won two. They have also only missed the finals once in the past 20 years.
The green and expansive outfield of the grand final venue – the Inglewood Community Sports Centre – meant the match has been slow going. On the first weekend, 322 runs were scored from 227 overs.
It was in stark contrast to playing surfaces the two sides are used to competing on.
The match could go down to the wire as well. Arnold need 49 runs, Kingower need five wickets.
Even if the result doesn’t go the way of Kingower, they could get a welcome boost in the coming years.
As works continue on the $80.6 million South West Loddon Pipeline, the cricket club senses as opportunity to get a much-needed supply of regular water.
The pipe will run right past the Kingower Recreation Reserve.
Mr Rose said they had entered discussions about getting connected, and things were looking positive.
“The pipe is going right past the front gate. We’ve made inquiries about how we can connect to that, so maybe in the near future we’ll see better conditions for the oval,” he said.
“We’ll be around for a while yet.”
And he hoped that, after years of grand final disappointment, they could finally break through for another premiership.
“But if it doesn’t go our way, we’ll shake hands with Arnold and congratulate them on their win,” Mr Rose said.
The third day of the Upper Loddon Cricket Association grand final starts at 10am at the Inglewood Community Sports Centre.
For a full write-up of the result, check Monday’s Bendigo Advertiser.