Third Test, Day 1: Gabba grass memories – cheery; WACA prospects – dreary.

I was reminded by the WACA test today, and I’m not sure why, of December 1979 when the West Indies came to the Darling Downs, to Gold Park, in Toowoomba. I had played quite a few Colts games there. The Windies side included Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge and Desi Haynes, IVA himself, and both Murrays, DA (who kept) and DL (who stroked his beard). Viv made a duck. The openers made 2 between them.

I had just finished school. It was the same day we got our tertiary entrance scores, and I knew the envelope would be at home when I got back to Oakey that night. Drink was required, and as luck would have it, they were selling orange whips (as some Queenslanders called beer in those days) at a number of places around the ground.

When I’d played at Gold Park the track seamed a bit, but wasn’t too quick. However, the Windies attack included M.A. Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft and Collis King.

Holding took the new ball and from the long run nearly killed G. Zirbell with a ball that flew. It was five metres passed him before he knew it.

Unsure of the manslaughter laws in Queensland, and his chances before a Darling Downs jury, Holding decided (after that one ball) to reduce his runs to just three steps (occasionally two). He was still unplayable and DA Murray was taking the aspro above his head.

These were pre-helmet days. Cricket was very different then.

I played for Wests and we ran a raffle for 10kg of prawns. The old adage of never ordering seafood beyond the Great Divide didn’t apply and the tickets were popular. I sold hundreds of them while sucking on cans of XXXX. I was very diligent, for someone half-tanked and on holidays.

About three o’clock I asked when the raffle was being drawn. The older blokes from the club looked at me like I was the village idiot. “Drawn?” they asked. “The boys are out the back eating them now.”

We’d grown up on concrete pitches using seamed plastic balls. The concrete was abrasive and slow. However there was something of a revolution in about 1977 when someone invented Gabba grass.

I remember my first hit on the synthetic. Drives went behind point because the ball pinged off. Lovely bounce. Lovely pace. Great for shot-making. Just a matter of adjusting.

A good WACA wicket is one step up from Gabba grass. And this is a good WACA wicket. Terrific carry. Carry that should have had Shane Watson out before he’d reached double figures.

Australia won the toss and batted on a fine and windy Perth day. Siddle was out with a hamstring injury. McKay in. Chris Gayle ensured Watson remain the subject of pub debate by dropping the opener; a chance the keeper, Ramdin, could have attacked. And once Watson was set he looked like an Under 16 star on Gabba grass.

He pushed straight and the ball thundered from his mega-willow. He flicked off his pads. He pulled wickedly, mainly through square leg, although occasionally straighter.

If you don’t believe helmets have changed the game have a look at Shane Watson. He presses forward so far that his pull is actually a swat off the front foot. It is a bizarre shot. But effective. Shane Watson would not have been pushing forward at the four demons of the late 70s.

Katich gave him the strike and Watson looked set until he nicked one behind. By this stage Roach was bowling down-breeze and he troubled Ponting with his pace. Not since the First Test of the 2005 Ashes tour has Ponting looked so short of time. He capitulated to the second delivery taking a nasty blow around the elbow and then copped a beauty in the ribs.

Treatment on his arm by tourniquet threatened to cut off circulation to his top hand, yet he was good enough, helped be a series of short deliveries, to just use his right hand to deposit a few to the boundary and one over it. The injury got the better of him and he retired hurt on 23.

Which brought Michael Hussey to the crease. The Katich-Hussey hour held little appeal. They punched the bundy and set about accumulating. Katich did play a few shots. Maybe one too many when on 99 he swept Benn and was snapped up by a diving Roach.

Clarke chipped the part-timer Deonarine to Gayle at that on-the-pitch short mid-on position first discovered by the scientist Emburey (from memory) and often employed against Matt Hayden and by Steve Waugh.

Hussey and North consolidated and were so pleased with their contribution to the industrial process (the little workers that they are), that they embraced as they walked off the ground with Australia at 3/339.

Only one thing can save this Test match from tedium, and that is Chris Gayle teeing it up some time tomorrow and trying to lob one into the back straight of Gloucester Park. I hope he does a Roy Fredericks but lasts a few more sessions.

That, or a prawn raffle.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV’s Offsiders.

He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids – Theo9, Anna8, Evie6.

He might not be the worst putter in the world but he’s in the worst three.

His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    I’m getting a little bored with 3/340 Test days.

    I think the lack of such days is one of the main reasons why the recent NZ v Pak Test series was such an interesting one.

    In 31 tests against the powerful Windies, AB scored 2052 at 39.46. His career average was 50.56.
    He averaged over 50 in 10 Caribbean Tests which included his 98 not out and 100 not out on a difficult Port of Spain track.
    Given the quality of these attacks and the lack of scoring opportunities, I reckon that’s a pretty good record.

    I always enjoy the rare occasion where Ponting faces quality fast bowling.

  2. I reckon Ponting’s a great player when he’s on top. Classic shot-maker. Beautiful feet and timing. And he can be a fighter, which is often about his dogged concentration and determination to not get himself out.

    But against the really good stuff I’m not convinced. I’m not sure he’d have had a huge career against the four horsemen of the apocalypso. I thnk Beefy Botham might have squared him up many a time as well.

    R.T. Ponting is no Graeme Wood.

    I should pick a team:

    Ponting (Wood)
    Watson (Scuderi)
    Hauritz (P. Taylor)
    et al

  3. Ponting has been ducking and hooking bouncers from the ripe old age of about 11 in the nets at the NTCA Ground in Launceston. His uncle (Campbell) bowled for Aust in a successful away ashes series and the boy Pont’n had no trouble handling him at that time.

    Harmsy, don’t pick on Rick. We luvs ‘im in Tassie. Phantom.

  4. Greg Campbell. Ah yes, Phantom, in those days when it was manadatory to pick a smokey. Only surpassed by Wayne Holdsworth.

  5. JTH – If I wasn’t sure I’d say you were just being provocative. First you had a crack at Reiwoldt calling him a good-ordinary player, now its Ponting. Both of them are brilliant athletes in my view. Having said that there might be some truth in the Ponting case; not that he isn’t a great batsman but that his urge to press aggressively forward early in his innings might have found him out against the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Big Joel and even the great Richard (wanker) Hadley.

  6. The other Tasmanian (Launceston)’smokey’ was Shaun Young. When atrition got to our bowlers in one of the successful away Ashes series he came in for an Oval (Australian graveyard) test. Made no runs and took no wickets. Does have a baggy green though.

    I also a know a north west coaster (Marrawah) who had a baggy green for abour half an hour. Steve Waugh’s left on a seat next to him in the West Indies. Very honest man ‘Joe’ King. Do you want me to do a brief synopsis of it for the the current cricket knackery John. It is a good anthropological one. Cheers, Phantom.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Andy Roberts: the slow bouncer followed up by the significantly quicker one.

    Big Joel: to pull or not to pull that is one of many questions.

    Hadlee: Gave Deano a rugged time.

    I was (at the impressionable age of 14) part of the ‘uncouth group’ at Kardinia Park in 1981 that gave Hadlee a ‘very hard’ time. So much so that he threw teddy out of the cot and threatened to go home.
    This old man.
    He told me.
    Richard Hadlee’s got VD etc etc.

  8. Give me a 3/340 opening day every time. I think we’ve been spoiled by some exceptional performances over recent years and that the shorter forms of the game have sent us down the path of seeking instant gratification.

    At stumps on Day 1 of the 5th Ashes Test in Sydney in 1963, England were 5/195. There were NO interruptions to play that day.

    Hussey and North have both scored at over one run per two balls. Nothing wrong with that in Test cricket.

    Be patient and let the game unfold.

  9. We were just as uncouth on the Gabba hill where some reminded Sir Richard of his status most minutes of the afternoon.

    Phantom, you’ll have to tell us your yarn now that you’ve set it up.

  10. Peter, my brother tells me he was in the crowd when Kim Hughes came to the boundary on day two and conducted a few verses of “I’d rather be a winner than a Pom” to a classic Simon and Garfunkel tune early in “that test” when Beefy rallied after a follow on. The rest was history, including the nice odds several Australian players got.

  11. John Butler says:

    I think this debate applies much more appropriately to Hayden than Ponting. Hayden’s success rate early on- when Donald, Ambrose, Walsh, etc were still going- paled compared to his later career.

    The fact is no batsman has had much sustained exposure to top quality fast bowling in the last decade (unless they were playing Australia). Steyn and Bond can’t stay fit, the Poms all found ways to derail themselves and Pakistan hardly gets to play anymore.

    The best pace attack the Aussies encountered in recent times was England 2005- and Punter went OK there. Much better than Hayden.

    Don’t forget, Ponting is now 35. The end, if not near, is certainly visible.

  12. John, I will talk to Kingy tonight and get the true story. Jim Maxwell did a grab on it a few years ago but Kingy said it didn’t quite come out in the spirit of the story. Cheers.

  13. Flynnie – a packed MCG, crowd on the edge of their collective seats, Kiwis fighting hard as are the Aussies, then it started; thunderous, magnificently succinct but beautifully delivered:

    HADLEE’S A WANKER! clap clap clap-clap-clap HADLEE’S A WANKER clap clap clap-clap-clap.

    I’ll never forget it.

  14. Peter Flynn says:

    Sage points John B.

    Phantom, sounds like the cricket gods got hold of KJ Hughes.

    Gigs, no doubt that the 62/63 Poms undid some of the great work of the previous touring team.
    3/340 that includes a significant, systematic and perfectly understandable milking of part-timers like Deonarine doesn’t do much for me, particularly when we seem to see it so often.

    What might have been hidden in my 3/340 comment were a general lament for ‘fairer’ Test pitches for bowlers, a lack of quality fast bowling in Test ranks, touring teams that just turn up (underprepared) etc.

    Prefer both first innings to be about 320-350 all out. I recognise that this is an ideal.

  15. Give the bastards Gabba grass and two-piece balls.Then you’d get some cricket.

  16. Rob Clarkson says:

    Re: Response 2

    John,

    Any comments you make against Australia’s mediocre batsmen will always win my applause.

    But against the really good stuff I’m not convinced.

    Go Punter.

    Rob

  17. Flynny, I agree with that sentiment regarding first innings totals. The better games tend to be the slightly lower scoring ones. I wouldn’t really want 3/340 every day. But I think the day had a reasonable amount going for it.

    And you’re right – we need pitches that give more to the bowlers. The batsmen shouldn’t be able to be comfortable for vast periods.

    I don’t understand why they don’t prepare more bowler-friendly pitches for one day games. The few ODIs that stick in my mind are tense-finishing, low scoring ones where every run counts.

  18. John Butler says:

    JTH

    I agree with the sentiment of your last post. Trouble is- given how they often can’t handle a swinging ball anymore- you’d have plenty of 3 day tests. Administrators frown upon such things.

    I think part of the reason 3-340 can seem so mundane is that we often only see limited facets of the game. With flat decks, so many players now just plonk on the front foot by default. Back foot play is in decline. So a player like Watson can pull off the front foot with little risk.

    Livelier decks would allow better-rounded techniques to come to the fore; but you’d have to live with some shorter games.

  19. Wait till the other team bats.

  20. John Butler says:

    Phantom
    I fear you may be on the money there.

    No Chanderpaul or Barath gives the lineup a rather Kate Moss-like appearance.

    If Johnson decides to have a good day it could get ugly.

  21. Watch out for Clint McKay, I’ve got a good feeling that he may get land himself a “Michelle” in one of these two innings.

  22. Tim, what’s a “Michelle”?

    Reminds me of very ordinary old fancy dress party joke.

    Bloke knocks on the door piggy backing a girl. Both are in ordinary clothes.
    The host answers and notes they are not in fancy dress and questions the bloke’s motive.

    “Fancy dress isn’t it?”
    “Yeah; what are you supposed to be?”
    “Ninja Turtle”!
    “What’s with the sheila on your back?”
    “That’s Michelle!”

  23. Hahaha love it, a Michelle came into parlance in the mid 90’s when Michelle Pfeiffer (five for) reached the peak of her acting career.

  24. As I type this, Haddin’s just been dismissed and Aus are 6/510. with no-one having cracked a ton. In 1982 at the MCG Pakistan declared at 8/500, with Mudassar Nazzar getting the top score of 95. So far that’s the highest innings total I’ve found where no player has reached 100. Looks like only Johnson and Ponting can stop that record (if it is one) being broken now.

  25. Grandstand just suggested the biggest total is 524 – India v New Zealand

  26. In that case, Ponting’s made a terrible declaration!

  27. The game to which you refer, Tim is this one:

    http://www.cricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63172.html

    Incredibly, the top score in that innings was just 70!

  28. Peter Flynn says:

    Gigs,

    Agree with comment 17.

    I have just channelled Bill Frindall and he informs me that the highest Test innings without a 100 is 9/524 (dec) by India v NZ at Kanpur in 1976/77.

    All made double figures include Chandrasaekar (how did that happen?).

    Top score was Amarnath with 70. Time to break out in stupid Muppet song.

  29. Peter Flynn says:

    Believe Gayle nutted Fredericks by one ball.

    I’ve tried to find footage of Fredericks’ Perth innings but failed.

    An entertaining 2nd day of batting although the bowling has been faecal.

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