1988-89 – a love letter

There are moments in life that stand out simply because what hitherto had been background clutter, had now crystalised and made perfect sense. Childhood contains a number of these seminal moments as gradually you understand the world around you. If these awakenings result in life-long loves then they take on extra significance and fondness, like meeting a life-long partner. This week the Ashes series starts, but for me it marks 25 years since my cricket enlightenment, the magical 1988-89 international cricket season and my silver wedding anniversary to the game. It does not rank as one of the most memorable seasons in cricket history on the surface and in comparison to other classic series, but I say ‘magical’ because it was and remains magical for me for the reasons above. All of a sudden there was an all consuming passion that lasted all summer, so take this as a love letter to the 1988-89 cricket season and the way it infected me forever through the long unravelling of a cricket season as it were before the Future Tours Program and Twenty 20.

It probably started auspiciously, somebody brought a cricket bat to school and we started playing. As a seven year old that had just come out of an all-consuming footy season it suddenly seemed natural. Then Scanlen’s cricket card boxes popped up on milk bar counters where the footy card boxes had previously been, so I naturally started collecting and the vague Australian player names and faces connected. The photos of the West Indies players showed something super-human to a 7 year old, a then unknown to Australian fans Curtly Ambrose in delivery stride looked 10 foot tall.

curtley ambrose bowling

The First Test went by at the Gabba, my passing interest gathered that we’d lost, the West Indies were miles ahead of us, though Steve Waugh had shown some steel in the face of it all.

The Second Test in Perth was a turning point. On the back of a Viv Richards assault, the West Indies had blasted us around the park. In what seemed to be a very unfair fight to a child’s eyes, Waugh and Graeme Wood staged an unlikely fightback via a 200 run partnership that gave some hope.

Later in the Sunday afternoon the unfair fight came back into view when Geoff Lawson was felled by a bouncer, waiting for dinner I was transfixed by the screen. As dinner was served the West Indies innings started in the most hostile circumstances and my first vivid recollection of a ball in Test Cricket came about. The screen flashed that Merv Hughes was on a hat-trick and I jubilantly celebrated as he trapped Greenidge in front with a hostility on his face both scary and thrilling. That was the moment.

As Christmas approached there were one-day games I watched, AB taking a one handed caught and bowled off Gus Logie at the SCG, David Boon spearheading a brave but ultimately losing cause. We talked about it at school the next day, Gus Logie was the guy that wore the helmet when they fielded. The one-day games were a bit more interesting with their colour and new uniforms with names on the back. Everything was easy to understand – The West Indies were the undisputed champions of all cricket and we were the underdogs. Curtly Ambrose looked 12 foot tall.

Christmas came and Australia got belted in the Third Boxing Day Test that was actually the Christmas Eve Test. I remember reading the paper afterwards about the bruising suffered by Ian Healy to places I’d never read in newspapers before. The series had been lost but all I cared about was how impossible it seemed to even get close to this team. Switching back to one dayers at least that seemed a slightly easier task.

The annual summer holiday at the beach had taken on a new dimension, the older kids around were listening to INXS and playing cricket, it seemed like this was what summer was all about. Curtly Ambrose had become an object of fear, respect and begrudging idolisation.

Then it happened, I woke one morning to pick up The Sun that each morning sat outside our tent on the foreshore and it had a photo of the aftermath of the famous Steve Waugh running at the sightscreen catch. It had taken almost two months and it was only’ a one dayer but we’d beaten the West Indies in a game of cricket.

curtley ambrose steve waugh

Not only that, Mervmania had taken hold with the Southern Stand exercise routine and Simon O’Donnell returned to the team after cancer. There was more to this.

I bought a copy of Australian Cricket magazine and read it from cover to cover, then read it again and again. Unconsciously I’d now fallen into the rich mine of information, statistics and literature that was attached to game.

We beat the West Indies again, then we beat them in the first game of the one-day finals as I listened on the radio in bed. The finals weren’t won, but there was a certain belief and hope, and as I discovered, more Test matches.

Merv Hughes

As the dying days of the endless summer holiday came around AB of all people spun Australia to a Test victory at the SCG as The Sun screamed ‘Dustbowl’. Boonie had been moved to 3 and scored a ton. There was real jubilation, dead rubber meant nothing to me and so it seemed to anyone else – we’d beaten the unbeatable, never mind a helpful SCG pitch.

To the 5th Test in Adelaide and the summer’s close, school was back and I was back at Little Athletics. Off the back of the 1988 Olympics I’d latched on to Little Athletics, but this day when the 5th Test was being played sealed my fate, I wanted to get home to watch the cricket. Dean Jones and Merv Hughes shared a rollicking late partnership that finally put Australia in a dominant position. Deano made 216 and Merv hit an almighty six to bring up 50 on the last ball before tea. The match ended in a draw but the season finished with an Australian team playing in the same postcode as the Windies.

merv hughes ducking

I was hooked.

The triumphant 1989 Ashes tour followed, franking everything the summer had triggered in me. And it’s been with me ever since.

I’ve never stopped playing, I’ve never stopped watching. It’s taken countless hours of my life, it’s paid my way to live abroad, it’s paid my wage at times, it’s broken my heart consistently, it’s given me my greatest highs.

It all traces back to 25 years ago and the longest summer.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Loved this article it was the rest of the world series in , 71 72 , with DK Lillees. 8 wickets in , Perth , Sobers 256 in , Melbourne and then the ashes series in England ,
    Massies 16 wickets at Lords and than winning at the oval to draw the series when even as a , 8 yr old I vividly remember being ripped off with the deck at , Headingley .
    Likewise Hooked line and sinker

  2. mickey randall says

    I love reading people’s recounts of the well-known, and their perception of these events. I like hearing about why these things matter to them. Thanks for that.
    Can it really be 25 years ago that Merv was bowling for Australia?

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    1972, lounge room full of 12 year olds, watching overnight Ashes highlights at 7am, before catching the train into the city with our billets from the Riverland, who were playing in the SAPSASA country footy carnival. One of us went on to play two ODIs for Australia.

    But had already been bitten by the bug in 70/71 and 71/72.

    half a dozen 14 year olds on the back of Graham Colman’s dad’s tray top, travelling in from Elizabeth only to find out that day 1 was a sellout in 74/75.

  4. Peter Schumacher says

    I can’t say exactly when I was really hooked. Dad listened to the cricket, therefore so did I. Perhaps the 1956 Ashes in England, listening on short wave was what really did it for me, Laker et al.

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