Prime Minister's XI refers to both a cricket match held in Canberra each year, and the team fielded by Australia for this particular match. As you might expect, the team is selected (at least officially) by the current Prime Minister of Australia, and the match is usually an International. Some Prime Ministers have more involvement and interest than others, obviously, but a few of Australia's longest serving Prime Ministers have been keen cricket fans and this has no doubt helped make this a tradition.
The match is played at Manuka Oval, Canberra, during the southern summer. The current format for the match is twenty20, or T20, which is a shorter, faster game intended for the short attention spans of the iPhone generation.
The first PM's XI was held in 1951, during the lengthy Prime Ministership of Robert Menzies, a great lover of cricket. Over the sixteen or seventeen years of his term in office, Menzies held seven Prime Minister's XI matches. During Menzies' matches in the 50s and 60s the team was selected from current and former Australian cricketers, as well as cricket-playing public figures outside the sporting world. The team has usually included some young local talent.
Of particular note was the 1963 team, selected by Menzies, who persuaded Sir Donald Bradman to come out of retirement after 15 years, and captain the team. A new stand at the Manuka Oval, named for Bradman, was unveiled on the day. There were 10,000 people in the crowd - at a time when Canberra had a population of 70,000. In an echo of his final Test appearance back in 1948, Bradman was bowled for four. Bowler Brian Statham was mortified, as the English team had had every intention of enjoying their time playing against a legend. But Bradman tucked his bat in that very Bradman fashion, and walked. It was his final appearance at the wicket.
After Menzies final match in 1965, the PM's XI was not held again until 1984, when the concept was revived by another cricket-loving Prime Minister, Bob Hawke. There has been a PM's XI match almost every year since, whether or not the Prime Minister is a cricket fan; I suppose it has not only the weight of tradition, but an accustomed place in the cricket calendar. For some, like Australia's next longest serving PM, John Howard, it was a highlight of his working year and nothing short of an impending nuclear disaster could have torn him from the oval; for others, it is just another public appearance and media spot in a busy week.
This year's team, playing England in a twenty20 match, is notable for being the third in a row to not include a Canberran on the side; and in keeping with the short-fast format, the selectors have opted for several of our least subtle bowlers. It makes for a good analogy with politics: the first team, back in 1951, was carefully selected by a Prime Minister who would stay in power for 17 years. Today's side is chosen by the cricket selectors, in the name of a Prime Minister whose survival depends on daily popularity polls, and whose idea of future planning is to retain power until the end of the year.
Ah well. The match commences in about six hours, and I'm reasonably confident our Prime Minister will last until the end of the game, at least. After all, no credible challenge to power in Australia is going to take place in the middle of an international cricket match.