Why take a 24-hour flight to England to see picturesque cricket grounds when there’s one in your backyard?
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The Gardens Oval is one of the most scenic ovals in regional Victoria and captures the imagination of all who play there.
You could be Steve Smith playing for Sussex or Jimmy Anderson steaming in for Lancashire when you step out on to the turf at Benalla.
A great deal of work has gone into making the Gardens oval the idyllic ground it is today.
Current custodian and curator Trevor Saker sees looking after the ground as a privilege, not a job.
When asked what he thought made the ground so special, he had one answer.
“The setting. It’s got to be,” Saker said.
“It’s the most English-looking track, with plane trees all around the boundary.
“You’ve just got to look at it. It’s more English than a lot of English grounds I’ve played.
“There’s a magnificent grandstand as well.
“It’s a labour of love because I love the place.
“I’ve won seven grand finals here, getting hundreds and taking wickets. (I’ve got) very fond memories.”
While Saker played his senior cricket at Violet Town, he always had a love for the Gardens Oval, offering to help out with keeping the ground in top condition.
In 2008, Saker returned from his stint in Violet Town and took on a more active role in curating the ground, a process he has perfected.
“I’ve had some good people (helping me),” he said.
“Peter Sherwill, he was the custodian of the ground before I took over. David Ford still helps me and Mark Yates (as well).
“If a game’s played here on a Saturday, I mow it off, sweep it off and then I’ll water it probably Monday, Tuesday and then get out the roller and start rolling it Wednesday afternoon and probably put in four or five hours at 40-minute intervals.
“So (you might roll the wicket) morning and afternoon, you might get three in (three rolls) a day.
“Over the next three or four days, it just hardens up, and bingo, you play the game and start again.
“So there’s a bit of a science to it. I’ve just self-taught (myself).
“I’ve got a passion.”
The oval’s proximity to the lake makes the garden ground all the more attractive, but the location does have its issues.
In the past two years, the ground has been flooded.
While the 2022 floods had a deeper impact on the oval, Saker said the response of club members on both occasions had players back at the crease in no time.
“It recovered okay (this year). It only came up on the ground a little bit,” he said.
“So it was muddy cleaning out the rooms, but we had the wicket covered.
“So we started cleaning on Thursday, and we played Saturday.
“The ground was wet, but this was fine because we covered it, but the year before, when we had more water, we missed a few weeks, but it didn’t affect the wicket.
“That was a big effort. The team effort was great.”
While the ground is stunning, it does miss one hallmark of a classic cricket venue: a white picket fence.
Saker says it will not be long before the Gardens Oval has a new look.
“We’ve just been approved (to build a picket fence). It’s taken six years,” he said.
“We found out yesterday. We’ve finally got the go here.
“This (current) fence is probably 50 to 60 years old, and it’s served its purpose.
“How good will that look?”
In his time at Gardens Oval, Saker has seen it all.
He’s been whacked for six over the grandstand and seen teams raise trophies above their heads, but he’s yet to see batters make a splash in Lake Benalla.
“There have been balls that have gone in the lake, but not on the full,” he said.
“Close to it, though.
“But as I say, there’s no better place than playing here in March during finals in the autumn weather.”