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The ANZACs playing cricket at Shell Green

How cricket saved the ANZACs

The game of cricket can likely be credited for saving thousands of Australian and New Zealand lives at ANZAC Cove.

This ANZAC Day, we take the time to honour and respect the 8141 men that died in the doomed confrontation with the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) at Gallipoli in 1915.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed about 1.6km north of their intended destination that fateful night on April 25, causing widespread confusion and leaving soldiers confronting well-established opposition with the advantage of higher ground.

While we all remember that night of horror, the ANZACs were actually entrenched in what became ANZAC Cove for almost eight months.

And when the time came to retreat, it was cricket that saved the day.

The Brit who concocted the idea of using cricket as salvation

George MacLeay McArthur-Onslow came from England’s historic Rugby School, where he had experienced the game of cricket.

Tasked with a covert operation to evacuate 20,000 ANZACs under the cover of night, the Commanding Officer of the 7th Light Horse Regiment decided to use that sport as the ultimate ruse.

The ANZACs had been pinned down by relentless gunfire since the April 25 landing, and he knew that signs of a retreat could lead the Turks down the hills in an all-out assault.

So he needed to show them that it was business as usual.

How bat and ball saved them all

McArthur-Onslow enlisted the services of war photographer and correspondent Charles Bean as part of the plan.

It was decided they would play a game of cricket on Shell Beach for Bean's benefit on December 17, to convince the Turks that it was all business as usual.

The plan came with risk, Shell Beach was named because it was consistently barraged with artillery fire - but the Turks let the ANZACs have their recreation.

And it worked, with 20,000 men able to retreat under the cover of night with minimal casualties.

The reinactment with cricket legends

The ANZAC photo reenacted

The 2001 Aussie cricket team reenacts the famous ANZAC cricket photo

Former Test captain Stephen Waugh took the 2001 Ashes touring party to the the Gallipoli Peninsula, where they reinacted Bean's famous photograph at Shell Green.

That came about after Waugh had discussed the cricket match with then-head of the Australian Army (now Governor-General, Sir) Peter Cosgrove two years prior.

Vice-captain Adam Gilchrist described it as'the most important day of my life'.

About the Author Josh Alston

Josh Alston is a hack with over 12 years industry experience, covering sport across all codes for newspapers and online agencies. Known to frequent grade matches because of their cheap tinnies. Eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Masters in sitting on the hill when the local cricket side was playing. Softball premiership winner, rugby league legend in Year 10 and no stranger to Doomben Racecourse.

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