Some of the biggest name’s in Australian cricket will help promote a positive message at Dubbo later this year after it was confirmed the Baggy Blues will bring a match out west.
Phil Marks and Steve Small, former NSW players and members of the Baggy Blues, and Camilla Kenny from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) met with members of Dubbo Regional Council and Dubbo and District Cricket Association on Wednesday.
There, they signed off on playing a match under lights at No. 1 Oval on Thursday, November 22, but there will be much more to the event than that.
The Baggy Blues, a NSW players’ group, were keen on revamping the Tooheys Country Cup Challenge, a competition created by Bob Simpson in 1977 where state players would play a series of matches in regional areas alongside country cricketers to promote the game and uncover new talent.
“We realised that more than 50 percent of NSW cricketers come from regional areas so we want to pay those communities back,” Marks said.
“We did some research on things and how mental health is affecting rural areas slapped us across the face.
“We aligned ourselves with RAMHP and now we’re trying to organise games in these (regional) areas and promote the mental health message.”
The Baggy Blues and RAHMP are eager to use cricket as the vehicle to promote conversation and bring the community together.
Marks and Small are all too aware the best way to bring people to the cricket is by having big names and with that in mind, the two teams playing in November will be a mix of local and prominent players.
“This is a win-win situation for the community and for cricket,” Small said.
“Given the events of the past 12 months involving the Australian side we want to rebuild the game and that can be done by past players coming out and helping these rural areas.”
While past players are the ones likely to be in action at Dubbo, Marks is adamant he’ll do all he can to bring some of the state’s best to No. 1.
“I’d love to sit here and say Steve Smith is coming out and Dave Warner and Shane Watson are as well but we will be asking them,” he said.
“If they have the time and availability we’ll use them. They’re all part of the Baggy Blues and we want to use the highest profile players we can to play the game and there will be four ambassadors at each game as well, and that will be us old blokes.”
As well as the Twenty20 match under lights, there will be a dinner the night before involving players while there will also be a breakfast featuring RAMHP, mental health workshops, and training clinics for junior players.
Dubbo won’t be the only location hosting a match as well, with similar events planned for Bega, Griffith and Lismore next season.
“We want this to be sustainable and we don’t want there to be 20 years between visits,” Marks said.
“It was 1999 when the last NSW game was played here and that’s too long. If we can create a model around the mental health model and it works, and the government continues to support it then we’ll continue to come back.”
Both former players said the meeting with the Dubbo groups was “fantastic” and they were amazed to see the community spirit and the eagerness of people when it comes to improving things in the region.