Dave Goodwin’s dreaming

by Dave Goodwin

 

I have a dream. An unusual obsession. I want to see Australia play a Test match in each of the ten Test-playing nations. Today I’ve ticked off Sri Lanka.

 

I’m now six down, four to go. Bangladesh is in my sights. I doubt I’ll make it to South Africa this year, but next time. Visits to Pakistan and Zimbabwe will occur upon the restoration of civil order.

Of course, I’ve done Australia to death. There have been more visits to the MCG and Gabba than I’ve had hot lunches. It’s important to get to the Adelaide Oval as often as possible, before it’s ruined. I’ve accumulated four Tests at the SCG and one at the WACA. Bellerive still awaits.

 

I spent 1993 living in Auckland. In March that year I trundled down to Eden Park to see New Zealand, in its first post-Hadlee effort against the Aussies, knock us over for 139 in the first innings and win the Test by 5 wickets. This was a time when Kiwis still cared about cricket.

 

In 1999 I journeyed to Antigua. My sons were 6 and 2. The wife and I stole a sanity break in Europe where her sister was living, thanks to her obliging parents. We flew into Prague and later took an overnight train to Budapest. The train had to pass briefly through a section of newly independent Slovakia and at the border post of Kuty we fell victim to a scam. We were awoken at 2am by border guards who demanded we display our ‘Slovakian transit visas’. We had none – we’d bought our train tickets on the new-fangled internet. So we were hauled off the train, traipsed across 8 lanes of train tracks in a scene reminiscent of a WW2 movie and placed in a barred room. The train left without us. Eventually I purchased ‘special visas’ from the guards in an all-cash transaction for US$200. We bought new fares from Kuty to Budapest and our holiday resumed when we jumped on the 6am express. It’s cold in Kuty in March.

 

On arrival in Budapest we were browned off. Relief was in sight as I noticed the American sports bar was televising the final day of the Test match from Barbados. I co-opted my brother in law Angus for a drinking partner. As the girls explored Budapest we sat in that bar and witnessed Brian Lara’s epic 153 not out as the West Indies made 9-311 to defeat Australia by a single wicket and come back to a 2-1 lead in a series in which they were demolished early. Australia had made 490 in its first dig (S Waugh 199, Ponting 104) but it was not enough. This was cricket at its absolute finest. We told our wives it would be all over inside the first session. But we were rooted to our stools for 6 hours. Angus is still serving his domestic penance.

 

I tell that tale because it explains why, a couple of days later, as my wife sat in an Opera house in Vienna before jetting home to her loving children, I found myself solo on a plane flying to Antigua. I figured seeing the fourth Test would be worth ten years of marital recriminations.

 

Arriving in St Johns at lunchtime on day 2, I headed straight to the old Recreation Ground. That’s the Test arena next to the jail where ‘old Gravy’ dressed in drag held court in the party stand, not the modern new Viv Richards stadium. Out the back of the food vendor stalls around the ground they were slaughtering chooks then frying them up.

 

Sadly I arrived ten minutes too late to witness another Lara special, his run a ball first innings even hundred. But the rest of the Test – and the atmosphere – was fabulous. With Justin Langer leading the way, in Ian Healy’s third last Test, Australia prevailed by 176 runs to level the series. This was the match where Stuart McGill (2-52 and 3-80) was selected with Warnie omitted, and the temperature around the team was high. I vaguely recall that on the second night I was in Antigua a gang of Aussie supporters I hitched up to partied at a sunken beach bar owned by Richie Richardson, alongside the ‘partying half’ of the Australian team mid-Test.

 

In October 2008 I was living in Singapore. The third Test between Australia and India was on in Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla arena. My buddy Steve (captain of my Singapore cricket team the ANZA Champs) and I decided to nip across for the weekend, as you do. Arriving late on the Friday night and both being Hawkers we warmed up at our hotel by watching over and over a DVD of the Cats’ recent sad demise in the grand final. Dominant batting was the feature of this drawn Test with the first innings scores being India 613/7 (Gambhir 206, VVS Laxman 200 no) and Australia 577.

 

At the Delhi ground there was only one place beers were to be found and that was high up in the top tier of the Delhi District Cricket Association stand. Strictly members only and to get to the top tier it was necessary to go through fifteen layers of security. There had been major security concerns in the lead up to the Test. We set ourselves the challenge of drinking a beer at the cricket in Delhi and we achieved it with the aid of some spurious looking membership cards, claims of reciprocal rights and a lot of sweet talking.

 

Up in the top tier of the DDCA we made friends with some folk from the Australian High Commission who invited us back to a barbecue being held at the Commission that (Saturday) night. This was an invitation not to be refused – they had Crown lagers and T-Bones. Imagine our delight when, half an hour after our arrival, in walked the demi-God Alan Border and a quartet of other less celebrated retired Test players. Steve and I parked ourselves at the Bar beside AB and were treated to his company for the rest of the evening. Frank, honest, incisive and humble, AB is a great man. I’m not sure whether he enjoyed his night, but Steve and I were in heaven.

 

In 2009, with my great mate Tim, I made the pilgrimage of an Ashes tour to the old dart. We were there for the first two Tests at Cardiff and Lords. It’s not necessary to detail our adventures here – they have already been extensively reported upon within this website. Save to reminisce that at Cardiff Australia failed to ram home its advantage and the Test was drawn after a lot of cheating by the Pommies on the last day, and at Lords Mitchell Johnson imploded and England tragically won by 115 runs.

 

So as things stand my record as a cricketing tourist sits at 1 win, 2 losses, 2 draws. This is unsatisfactory.

 

I’m living in Singapore again so my visit to Colombo for this Third Test (to see day 2 and the first session of day 3) is another weekend sojourn, a la Delhi. Fortunately the flight out of Singers on Friday night didn’t depart until 11pm so there was time to catch the Hawks’ semi final victory over the Swans at a Boat Quay bar before jetting out. I’ve begun the weekend in a positive frame of mind, feeling optimistic. And the Aussies have been on top on this tour, so shouldn’t that continue?

 

However, this is Test cricket and there are always momentum swings. Just as a top tennis player on fire in a grand slam tennis semi final rarely sustains continuous brilliance through 3 straight sets. There comes a point where the flame flickers.

 

The Sinhalese Sports Club ground is charming and a little derelict, like Colombo itself. The capacity is 10,000 (compared to 35,000 for the nearby pre-eminent Premadasa stadium used for the recent World Cup semi final). Most of the public areas are open grassy banks, and the bank under the trees which provide afternoon shade looks the prime spot. The choice of SSC for this match is vindicated – today’s crowd is less than 2,000. I gained an insight into this from the driver who gave me a ride from the airport to my Colombo hotel when I asked him if he was following the Test: “I don’t have time, sir, to follow long games.” He follows short-form. In the West, we take our leisure time for granted.

 

The Australians finished day one at 5-235 with Hussey on 63 and Haddin 21. New bowler Eranga had joined the exclusive club of those who have taken a wicket with their first ball in Test cricket and tellingly the local paper “The Island” had this to say: “Eranga on debut went on to show there’s no dearth of fast bowlers in the country, only a mismanagement of them once they hit the big league due to opportunistic player agents, who sell them for 30 pieces of silver to Indian liquor barons.” Fernando was named as a “case in point”.

I’ve travelled to Colombo on my own, so I sent an email to J Harms asking if he knew of any characters already over here. He sent me an email suggesting I look out for Neville Turner, cricket historian, musician and bon vivant. At the SSC ticket office I surveyed the menu of seating options and decided to go for the premium option: “top tier, SSC pavilion, AC”. The air conditioning attribute seemed appealing given this place is on the equator and I reckoned there would be other Australian supporters up there. The ticket set me back A$9. On arrival I looked around and who was the first person I eyeballed? Neville Turner (I’d met him last December at the Adelaide test).

 

I sat down next to retired RAAF squadron leader and former top-grade umpire Bill Murray, originally from Perth. Within minutes, Neville issued us a challenge: inside a half hour, to list all the West Australians who had played Test cricket. We both grabbed pen and paper. To Neville’s chagrin Bill, with superior knowledge of the players of the 50s and 60s, compiled the definitive list: 47 all up, he reckons. Neville bagged 42 and I tailed off with the bronze medal.

 

As this occurred the Aussies progressed the score to 265 before Haddin fell, nicking one to the keeper off Eranga. Wierdly, Haddin stood his ground and uselessly burned up a challenge. He proved himself to be a poor judge of these situations during the last Ashes series. Perhaps he feared it might be his last Test innings, which is on the cards and not a bad idea, actually.

 

It was time to focus back on the match before us and before long it was all happening. Hussey glided past 5000 Test runs, a monumental achievement for a man who came to this stage so late in life, moving to 99. Then the spinner Herath bowled a suspenseful, containing over to him before at the other end Welegedara knocked over in successive balls Johnson and Siddle. 8-293 and Hussey still short of the ton. Finally the admirable Huss grabbed the run he needed for his 15th test century. We stood and applauded.

 

Copeland came and went and it was 9-295. Hussey stroked the side to its final score of 316 before Eranga undid him with a slower ball.

 

The Australians, Hussey and Marsh aside, had underperformed. On a good battig track, with the chance to grab the series by the throat, they had relented. Eranga on debut returned 4-64, Welegedara 3-75.

The Sri Lankans sprung a surprise when they opened with Paranavitana and Thirimanne. This however left their middle order looking especially formidable – Sangakkara, Jayawardene M, Dilshan and Mathews is not a bad lineup. (Incidentally, doesn’t the Australian middle order suddenly look strong on paper with Marsh at 3, Ponting 4, Clarke 5 and Hussey 6? They all seem suddenly to be in the right slots.)

 

The openers made it to 0-9 when lunch was taken at noon. I tucked into the SSC’s tasty repast of beef medallions and grilled chicken though my wife had exhorted me not to eat at all while I was in Sri Lanka. On resumption, the local openers looked comfortable and moved without incident to 37.

 

Then Clarke let off Thirimanne, dropping a catch at second slip off Watson. It flew high and hard but a good catch would have taken it. Clarke looked like he panicked a bit, and went into an odd crouch before throwing his hands up. As a catcher Clarke is a 70 percenter. Mark Waugh was a 90 percenter, Hussey is an 80 percenter. Michael Slater was an example of a 60 percenter.

 

Two wickets eventually fell, at 56 (Thirimanne – a brilliant short cover catch of a full-blooded drive off Johnson) and 97 (Paravitana, bowled by a solid inswinging slower one from Siddle).

 

That’s when Mihaela Jayawardene strode to the crease to join Sangakkara. The omens were not good for Australia. Just behind where we were sitting there is a plaque commemorating one of cricket’s great feats. At this stadium, the Sinhalese Sports Club ground, in July 2006 these two batsmen (Jayawardene as captain making 374 off 572 balls; Sangakkara as vice captain contributing 287 off 457) compiled the record partnership for any wicket in Test or first class cricket. 624 runs. This in a game Sri Lanka won by an innings and 153 runs against a tidy opponent, South Africa.

 

Jayawardene and Sangakkara are both master batsmen. This means they each have complete control of their batting method and are able to force bowlers to bowl to them as they wish. Australia currently does not have a master batsman. Ponting right now is a lapsed one, Hussey close but not quite and Clarke nowhere near.

 

And that was how the afternoon unfolded. The two fine craftsmen controlled proceedings on a good strip. Australia actually performed well in the field showing application in the heat and humidity. But Australia is in trouble in this Test.

 

Intermittently as they batted I must admit I slipped downstairs to the big screen in the SSC bar to catch score updates as Australia lost to Ireland in the Rugby World Cup and the Broncos beat St George in a sudden death semi final.

 

At stumps Sri Lanka was 2-166 with Sangakkara 61, Jayawardene 31.

 

After play we adjourned back to that SSC bar to watch the second half of West Coast’s win over Carlton on the Australia Network TV channel. We had a few beers with Ramesh, a colon surgeon from Galle. He had a large gash on his face where he had cut himself shaving that morning. “Ramesh,” I said, “that cut is a bit of a worry given your line of work.”

 

“Hey man,” he retorted, “how do you think the arse was invented?”

 

 

 

Comments

  1. You are a machine DG.

    Enjoyed your piece.

  2. I envy some of those experiences Dave.

    Nice work.

  3. I wish I was able to see this series in South Africa. It will be interesting.

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