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Lights on, game on

Date

Chris Dutton

The lights at Manuka oval are turned on for the first time.

The lights at Manuka oval are turned on for the first time. Photo: Melissa Adams

I'm bored of cricket. I know, it's un-Australian on Australia Day.

The Tests, one-dayers, Twenty20s, Big Bash all got too much for me, I was at a point where I'd rather watch Home and Away's return than Sri Lanka chase down a small target.

Even Ricky Ponting's arrival in Canberra and Australia's first match in the capital's 100 years seemed unable to get me out of my cricket slump. But as I turned off State Circle and on to Commonwealth Avenue on Wednesday night, all the negativity disappeared.

Finally they'd turned the lights on at Manuka Oval after years of planning and months of construction.

It was like the lights were drawing me in. You know the ones - the six leaning towers rising high into the sky. Surely you've seen them and wondered what it would be like at night. Would the overflowing light sneak through some bedroom windows in Manuka?

Would the snazzy new lights suit a ground in desperate need of a revamp or would they be an ugly addition to the skyline? Lucky for the Manuka residents, the light spill is minimal so cricket and AFL fans won't get a glimpse into their private lives.

And the snazzy lights take Canberra into what will be one of most exciting eras of its sporting landscape.

I challenge anyone who's going to the Prime Minister's XI on Tuesday to tell me otherwise.

These aren't just a couple of poles stuck up for a quick fix.

These lights are the real deal - 47-metre pylons with 94 lights on each specifically aligned to a certain place on the field.

They can go above 3000 lux - the reading used to measure light - and I can tell you that's mighty bright.

A small group of government officials and interested locals walked through the Manuka gates on Wednesday night to see what all the fuss was about.

I was with them, constantly looking up to see how bright it was in the middle of Manuka Oval.

A Cricket ACT staff member bet me I couldn't catch a high ball while looking into the light that towers over the Bradman Stand.

He was wrong - I safely made the catch but couldn't stop seeing white stars for the next five minutes.

Then I started imagining West Indian master blaster Chris Gayle smashing sixes into the night sky and I was filled with unexpected enthusiasm.

For all the criticism the lights project has copped and all the sceptics fearing they would be a blemish on the inner-south hub, you're in for a shock.

The newest additions to Manuka will create an atmosphere like never before in Canberra.

Sure, the crowd will still be between 10,000-15,000 - much less than what Canberra Stadium can attract. But the beauty of night-time action at Manuka is the abundance of nearby pubs, clubs and restaurants.

They must be licking their lips with anticipation and planning for an overflow of customers.

For too long Canberra's sporting landscape has lacked a pre-game atmosphere or place to meet before walking to see the Raiders or Brumbies play.

In other cities, it's a tradition to catch up with mates at a pub before play starts, slowly move down to the ground and then head back to the pub for a couple more drinks to discuss the action.

It's part of the reason I'm keen to see an indoor stadium built in Civic. Being able to watch an NRL or Super Rugby match and then head into the middle of Canberra for dinner or to party long into the night would help attract more people.

I didn't think seeing the lights on at Manuka Oval would have this affect on me.

I've been to most of the main sporting grounds in Australia and saw cricket, rugby league, rugby union and AFL under lights.

But there's a certain charm to a semi-suburban ground now capable of hosting international cricket fixtures and night-time AFL.

My hope is that it's not limited to those events.

Why not have a day of Cricket ACT Twenty20 action there with three or four games.

Or play NEAFL first-grade matches at the same ground with the blockbuster match under lights to finish a superb day of action.

Someone even suggested an outdoor cinema in summer.

Of course there's a cost involved. Those lights, burning brightly and illuminating the pitch, will have an hourly cost of maybe somewhere around $400.

It would all be worth it to give some local stars a chance to shine on a bigger-than-normal occasion.

So when the lights are turned on for the PM's match, take a minute to look around to soak up the atmosphere.

Hopefully you get the same buzz I've got. And I guarantee you won't think the six towers are an ugly addition to the skyline when you've seen them in action.

The lights will do their job, now it's up to Gayle and Ponting to do theirs.

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