The principal sports in Australia are cricket, rugby and Australian Rules football. In the summer sport of cricket Australia is generally regarded currently as the world leader, especially in five-day test cricket.
In Australia cricket is popular and draws large crowds, the greatest struggle, of course, being against the old enemy, England, in a battle which takes place twice every four years - once in Australia and once in England - in a series of five five-day test matches, the reward for winning which is the title to the Ashes. The Ashes is a trophy reputedly containing the ashes of the stumps or bails from the first match in which Australia ever defeated England on English soil, on 29th August 1882, although probably it does not actually contain those ashes. The principal arena for cricket is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, built for the 1956 Olympic Games, and in which 97,000 spectators can be accommodated. However, other capital cities also have their famous cricket grounds - the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Gabba in Brisbane, the W.A.C.A. in Perth, and the Adelaide Oval.
In the winter Australia is divided between rugby and Australian Rules football. Rugby is the major sport in New South Wales and Queensland, while Victoria is the stronghold of Australian Rules football, with support from South Australia and Western Australia.
Australian Rules football is a fast and exciting game played on an oval field with an oval shaped ball. Two slightly different codes have teams of fifteen or eighteen players. The ball can be carried by players as long as they bounce it every ten metres (no mean feat) and it can be passed by being kicked or being punched, but not thrown.
If another player catches a kicked ball, he may claim a ‘mark’ and have a free kick, and one of the most exciting moments in the sport is seeing players rise high into the air to take marks. At each end of the field are four goal posts in line. If the ball is kicked between the centre two posts, a goal is scored and six points awarded to the team kicking the goal. If the ball passes between one of the centre posts and an outer post, however, only a ‘behind’ is scored and just a single point is awarded. A game consists of four quarters of twenty-five minutes of actual playing time each.
Horse racing is popular in Australia, mostly as a sport on which to bet; with the premier race on the Australian Racing calendar the Melbourne Cup a 2 mile event raced at Flemington, on the first Tuesday of November every year.
Australia has also produced some fine swimmers and tennis players over the years, as well as one or two famous golfers. As one might expect, surfing too is a sport at which Australians excel.