The Ashes – Adelaide, Day 1: A brisk lunchtime in the Cathedral Hotel

The satirical polemicist Voltaire once asked, “Is there anything better than a brisk lunchtime session in the Cathedral Hotel, on the first morning of an Ashes Test?”


In all matters philosophical and cricketing our French friend is accurate so I presented myself at the revitalised old boozer. It’s a Keith Stackpole jaunt from Adelaide Oval; our tremendous, alluring oval.


Friday night at the Adelaide Lutheran Christmas function (Catholics now admitted) Harmsey said, “Meet you at the Cathedral pub. 11.15.” I was enthralled and curious that the declared time wasn’t 11 or 11.30, but 11.15. This promised things exciting or dimly dangerous or both.


Whilst grateful I cling to a heady dream in which my ear is bent by this thrilling invitation: Meet you tomorrow in the _____ Hotel. Front lounge. 4.37 pm.


4.37. How good would this be? Who could resist such an exotic offer?


Strolling in from the misty wet the ancient Barossan adage swirled overhead, as it must for those with a connection to its verdant valley: One at eleven, or eleven at one. The Cathedral was bellowing; part matinée circus, part West End production. The Barmy Army merchandise card-table in situ, its custodians in throaty, summery cheer. Only 11.15? It was as if the pub had been throttling along for hours. Perhaps it had.


For me, an unsurpassed way to invest an energetic hour or two is to stand about a tavern’s table, by an open window, with a loose knot of like-mindeds, and trade cricket yarns: personal, public and apocryphal.


And so we did.


Outside, a curiously impotent army of Warwick Capper number 39’s had mobilised, while inside, PJ Flynn and company attacked their fare (2016 Burgers of the Year, no less. No word yet on the 2017 winners – I’ll keep you posted) and the stories impatiently assembled.


Of course, after the obligatory SK Warne and IM Chappell anecdotes, we migrated to RM Hogg. When he played for Australia I was a kid who loved his ferocious bowling, and the hostility with which he steamed to the wicket; all Serengeti chesting, and scowl. He presented as one you’d have on your side, in a fight (Do cricketers have scraps and footballers have barneys?). Even his blonde locks flounced with anger.


Flynnie’s story went thus:


After his international career concluded Rodney played in Willowfest: the Australian amateur cricket championships, up in Mildura and Wentworth. Hoggy remained properly livid and fast. One afternoon his captain threw him the ball.


As he paced out his run-up a mischievous scorer, grasping the demon quick’s permanent volatility, yelled out towards the 123 Test-wicket veteran with faux ignorance, “Bowler’s name?”


From over my Coopers Session Ale in the Cathedral I could envision Hoggy’s lips tightening in a snarl. He didn’t bother to respond. But his captain did. “Hogg” came the reply.


Not done yet, the scorer chirped again, “One ‘g’ or two?”


As the yarns volleyed across our ales, a film-crew strode in and captured one of the Barmy Army, in staccato, bursting voice. By now the Wiz and his post-modern disciples had either departed, or been moved on by management. Perhaps Dr G Edelsten had invoked an injunction.


The Don DeLillo of cricket authors, Gideon Haigh, shared some probing insights on Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and the outlandish turf wickets he’d encountered recently in Melbourne. As lunchtime pub entertainment and education, it was unparalleled.


I was asked of my earliest Adelaide oval cricket memory. It was the 1974/75 Ashes with Dad. On the scoreboard hill among fractured foam esky lids like Canadian ice-floe, and floppy towelling hats reminiscent of those draped upon Arthur Dunger, I recalled an over each from DK Lillee and JR Thompson. This closed the day’s play.


To my eight-year old ears the noise was a pyroclastic event. I was exhilarated by the vivid and escalating possibilities as they splashed across my bow.


My next Adelaide Oval experience, I recounted to Flynny, was one Sunday during a match against Tasmania in the 1982 Sheffield Shield season. Some Kapunda contemporaries and I had wandered in and taken our seats in the former Sir Edwin Smith stand. The crowd was dotted about like inmates in a TB sanatorium.


I only recollect the spell of Michael Holding.


As accepted fast bowlers are athletes until they reach the crease, and Holding was supreme in his gliding beauty. Pace men such as Craig McDermott and Mitchell Johnson are menace and violence as they tear in. But the West Indian was noiseless and painterly.


With the Taswegian keeper back halfway to the Cathedral End fence, it seemed that at the moment of release the ball, instantly forty yards away, was being scooped across to second slip.


Neither the batsman, nor I, were optically able to track the fig. I became aware of a remarkable connection between mechanics and biology. This became metaphysical majesty. I was slack-jawed. We all were. I don’t know if Holding took a wicket during our short sojourn. And, in many ways, an edge or explosion at the castle would have spoiled this most bewitching of sporting vistas.


Time had passed, and all by that window had an engagement, so we left the pub. Across the road, an Ashes Test was waiting.


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About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello


  1. Mickey having done some kids coaching with Hoggy you painted what would have been the look on his face perfectly.The 74-75 ashes is my 1st test match I attended also I remember being there very early and waiting for play we were on the concrete in front of the Vic Richardson gates I remember how far back the slips were for Lillee and Thommo and Ian Chappell catching Amiss in the 1st over of the day yep I was hooked.I was with you when JTH said 11.15 yes it was unusually precise.Thanks for the trip down memory lane

  2. Thanks Malcolm. How fresh was it at the cricket? It was warmer at the preliminary final, back in September. I feel for Chadd Sayers, the nation’s finest when it comes to mixing the Bobo cordial.

    While the urn seems likely to return to our island home I sense that both sides may be different by the time we get to Sydney with Handscomb and Cook under pressure. I also wonder if our bowling attack will take us through the series, and the wisdom of even attempting this.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    You’ve convinced me Mickey, I’ve gotta come over next year.

    But the Capper / Richie thing smacks of Eastern states imperialism. Next year they should have duelling platoons of Fritzy Freeman and Bob Bower look alikes instead.

    A lifetime of Bobo cordial imbibing – that would explain Port Adelaide supporters I guess.

  4. Grand stuff Mickey. Do you need to show your passport to get into the Cathedral at Test time? I was born around the corner at Memorial Hospital, and saw my first Test in 65/66. Bob Bower and Vic Richardson (a broadcaster before he was a gate) used to do the ABC descriptions from an open bench at the top of the John Creswell Stand (which became the Bradman and then the Riverbank). My first foray into sporting media was a spontaneous “crikey” or “jeez” at a dropped catch in a Shield match. Also my last appearance – they shooed me 3 benches away. Those grey wooden benches were character building.
    Would the Fritzy Freeman look-alikes all be wearing prison bars and have a cup of HB pencils instead of microphones? Great man. When sportsmen were humble.
    Hope to return to the alma mater next year. Will Adelaide or Brisbane get an India Test in a 4 Test season? The new stadium in Perth should guarantee us a gig.

  5. Swish- I’d suggest an army inspired by local umpiring icon Tony Crafter. But this may have limited mass appeal. It is a great event. I went for a wander over to the scoreboard hill for a look as the sun set and while there was a gyre of drinking debris it seemed to be good-natured. The Barmy Army was subdued too.

    While I love the redevelopment I do miss the old Duckpond which was a permanent fixture on the old River End hill. It was like a welcoming old friend.

    PB- I saw some photos recently of the oval around the time of mark Waugh’s debut back in 1992. It was a very different place even then. I do hope that the Cathedral End remains as it is, and that greed doesn’t result in a new grandstand. The Moreton Bay Figs are a treasure. Can’t be many grounds that hold 50,000, but also have trees!

    Thanks men.

  6. I loved this, Mickey. Captured the pre-Test excitement beautifully.
    Unfortunately I missed you all, as I was roped into a Variety Club lunch on Hindley St.

  7. Thanks Smokie. If it’s variety you seek then Hindley Street generally doesn’t disappoint, despite the suggestions of Powderfinger on their best album, Internationalist.

    Hope you managed to sneak in a Coopers Session Ale and enjoyed the lunch.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Poor Hoggy, being alphaed by the scorer.
    We were at a Victoria v South Australia one day game a few years ago. One of our group, after few beers, made it his night’s work to sledge Mark Cosgrove every time the ball went near him. Eventually, Cosgrove was brought on to bowl. Our sledger is still dining out on the fact he got the whole 800 strong crowd to laugh as his call of “bowlers name” echoed around the near empty MCG.
    Another great read Mickey, love the event the Adelaide Test sounds like it is, really need to get over for one.

  9. Thanks Luke. Cossie is a guy who could hit the ball as well as anyone, but I suspect he hit the grog just as sweetly, and didn’t achieve as he should.

    There’s a certain reward in being in a tiny crowd at an empty stadium when a punter makes a sharp comment in earshot of everyone.

    Agreed that you must get over for an Adelaide Test. We’d ensure you were carefully chaperoned about the ground and city. We could arrange some extra-curricular visits to craft brewers, if required.

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