Back in 1958 we kids would spend most of our summer daylight hours involved in backyard cricket. With six boys of varying competitive spirit, many a spell at the crease ended in tears ,as accusations of ‘cheat’, or ‘not fair’ often ended in Mum’s intervention.
There was a window in the neighbor’s house which was tantalisingly close for the lofted on-drive. On a few occasions a hushed silence came to the usual noisy proceedings when the sound of shattering glass could be heard, forcing a cessation to the day’s play and an apology to the understanding Mrs.Wickham.
We were cricketing ‘nuts’ and would listen religiously to the wireless description of Test matches by Alan McGilvray, Johnnie Moyes, Clive Harburg and Vic Richardson. That was as close as we could get to the ‘big time’, as television was in its infancy and the grainy black and white post-match highlights had not yet extended to the ‘bush’
So there was delirium in the household when Dad, the original cricket ‘buff’, announced that we’d be making the trek to Melbourne to see a day of the Christmas-New Year Test.
There were elaborate preparations and the old black Pontiac contained a boot-load of sandwiches, thermoses and associated requirements for a car-load of fans, gearing up for the ‘marathon’ day.
It’s hard to adequately describe the emotion of approaching the MCG for the first time, entering the bowels of the huge coliseum, climbing the steps and viewing the magnificent arena – the green sward bathed in bright sunlight. It was breathtaking. It was Nirvana. It was the thrill of an 11 year-old’s lifetime.
Then, to see left-armers Alan Davidson and Ian Meckiff clean up the Poms was exhilarating. Meckiff, with a long, rhythmic run-up and, to me, a striking action, was a favourite and, what’s more, he was a Victorian.
So was Neil Harvey. He had moved to New South Wales the previous season, but I had forgiven him and his unbeaten 60-odd that afternoon, coming from a fellow member of the left-hander’s club, enhanced my hero-worship of him.
There were many more Tests over the years, all of them with fond memories.
Fifty-five years after my first Test ‘appearance’ I’m seated, awaiting the first ball of Day Two . If people were hung-over from the events of Boxing Day it’s not obvious, as more than 70,000 have flocked to the ground.
The atmosphere is mesmeric, as usual, and the presence of the Barmy Army adds lustre to the occasion. Moustachioed Mitch Johnson produces a spell which we will talk about for years, as he dispenses the Poms for 255. Old Mitch. Hasn’t he turned his career around. A buzz goes through the crowd whenever he takes the ball. He’s electric!
The Aussies struggle and it’s adopted Victorian Chris Rogers who holds the innings up. And when he departs, another player who has come from the ‘dead’, Brad Haddin, pulls off another rescue act.
But it’s been slow and the most aggression for the day is shown when the security boys escort a tattoed ,bare-chested gentleman up my aisle, for whatever reason, I’m not sure. Suddenly another of the security fraternity grapples with him (hardly necessary I thought), a punch is thrown, the tattoed fellow has the over-exuberant security man in a headlock, police appear instantaneously and they all disappear down the stairs. Another $1,083 (or more) for the coffers and sanity once again reigns.
It was amazing how quickly the game moved on Day Three. We enjoyed a terrific last-wicket stand between Haddin and Lyon which reduced the English lead by 40. And Alistair Cook showed what a brilliant stroke-maker he is. Just when you’re thinking that the Poms will take their lead to more than 300 (at least),the inimitable Johnson strikes. First he has Cook plumb LBW, then he effects a classic run-out, followed by his catch of the dangerous Ian Bell.
The game had again turned on its head. But cricket’s equivalent to Hayden Ballantyne, Kevin Pieterson, starts to bring the game back to an even keel, with some support. You’re thinking that England are getting on top and you’re wishing that Johnson, who has swung ends and is favoured by a gusty breeze, would knock Pieterson’s arrogant block off.
But it’s the spinner Nathan Lyon who gets the spoils (Johnson chips in too), as the Poms capitulate and lose 5/6, leaving the Aussies with a gettable target of 231 to win.
Sorrowfully, I rush to catch a train, but, as usual, I depart with a truck-load of memories.
P.S: From the comfort of the lounge room we cheer as the Aussies clinch another victory, on the back of a positive partnership between Rogers and Watson. The resuscitated career of the veteran Rogers is another great story. The world has returned to its true axis – Australia on top of the tree thanks to a left-handed Victorian century-maker !