Adelaide Oval, 5 February

Finally, the silverware.

Fifteen long years. I was there. I hadn’t intended to be but a mate who’d been having his ups and downs asked if we could catch up at the Oval, have a beer or two. Agreed.  ‘See you there.’ We’d have a beer or two.

The Redbacks didn’t exist when South Australia last won a trophy, the Sheffield Shield, back in April 1996. I was there for that too. Fifteen runs ground out in the last two hours. We chewed our fingers. Twelve thousand office workers came down from the city at the end of the day and the unbelievable 59 ball countdown began, the last pair Shane George and Peter McIntyre at the wicket. 59, 58, 57 … 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … 0 with McIntyre jamming down on a Brendon Julian yorker and sidestep skipping away from the wicket, a victory jig, an airborne clicking of the heels.

Saturday night, 27,920 people, new grandstands, the ground near enough packed, a record, some sort of record, the form of cricket almost light years away.

Dramatis personae

The Redbacks – one can’t really say South Australia – because only three of the eleven are local: opening batsman Daniel Harris, middle-order bat Cameron Borgas (who has come in as a replacement for Callum Ferguson) and wicketkeeper Graham Manou. The rest of the team consists of captain and opening batsman Michael Klinger and number three bat Aiden Blizzard (Victoria); batsman Tom Cooper and all-rounders Dan Christian and Aaron O’Brien (New South Wales); fast-medium bowler Kane Richardson (Northern Territory); off-spinner Nathan Lyon (Australian Capital Territory); and guest player Adil Rashid (Yorkshire). By contrast the visiting New South Wales Blues are home grown.

Perhaps one shouldn’t piss on the sparklers but the SA contingent doesn’t say much for cricket development here, or at least its final stage. What is the message for our grade players whose ambitions to play at the higher level are thwarted? And what is the connection between the young fan and his hero? Where once the junior cricketer from West Torrens could identify with Hookesy over the back fence in Thebarton now the player who now represents his state is (like the footballers) drafted from anywhere: Prahran (Melbourne), Marrickville (Sydney), St Lucia (Brisbane), Busselton (Western Australia) or Launceston (Tasmania).

When it comes to experience Redbacks’ former captain Manou is the only Test representative among the locals while Harris, Klinger, Borgas, O’Brien and Rashid have substantial first-class careers. For NSW, captain and opening bowler Stuart Clark and number three batsman Phil Jacques are Test players, and middle-order batsman Dominic Thornely (who has come out of retirement) is the only other player with major first-class experience, although batsman Ben Rohrer, wicketkeeper David Smith and all-rounder Moises Henriques, Australia’s most exotically named cricketer, have been around the traps for a while. Blaster (if not master blaster) opening batsman David Warner has probably the most lop-sided background with seven limited-over and 25 T20 international appearances but just four first-class games for his state.

Five players have no first-class experience. For the Redbacks these include 19-year-old fast-medium bowler Kane Richardson and 23-year-old off-spinner Nathan Lyon. For the Blues, three teenagers: 18-year-old all-rounder Sean Abbott, 17-year-old fast bowler Patrick Cummins, and 19-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner Luke Doran.

The Game

Yorkshire leg-spinner Rashid opens the bowler to Warner and this might almost be a throwback to Edwardian times or at least to Dipak Patel for New Zealand at the one-day World Cup of 1992. Obviously Warner is reckoned to read spin less well than pace. However two fours are flayed and two sets of flares fired in the first over. There are no observable rewards for dot balls.

In Rashid’s second over a lofted swing drive over mid-wicket makes me think of namesake rock singer Dave Warner from the Suburbs as this Warner has launched the ball into the next suburb if not space. Up and up it flies, higher and higher until just a little over the peak of its parabola it deflects from the projecting top mast of the roof at the northern end of the Chappell Stands. The roof has its critics but the points are erect like Madonna’s bras drying on a line in a stiff breeze. Seated at the top of the Members’ Stand I see the ball ricochet into Pennington Gardens.

I’m tempted to ring the Channel 9 commentators and tell them it must have landed by the Jack Reedman Fountain, that the Reedman fountain is just off a pathway that runs between the Victor Richardson Gates and St Peter’s Cathedral, that it not only commemorates a football and cricket star of the 1890s and 1900s but is sited on the exact spot where Reedman is reputed to have a landed a hit from the centre of the ground. A dozen years ago I measured the distance at 110 metres. I’m sure they’d be interested.

Jack Who?

I’d also like to tell the Nine blokes, and Kerry ‘Skull’ O’Keeffe and the ABC for that matter, that the biggest hit on the ground was a couple of metres more. ‘Tibby’ Cotter slugged Sidney Barnes in the Test match of 1912 for a drive over long-on to the Duke of York tree which is still there what’s more. Cotter, you’ll remember, was killed at Beersheeba, Palestine with the Light Horse only a few years on, and Barnes was the greatest bowler of the twentieth century. Impossible, a Pom?

And I could go on, Arthur Richardson belting a ball over the Mostyn Evan Stand into what was then a carriage park. For horses and carriages, get it? Out where the practice nets used to be. Out where the Jason Gillespie statue now stands. Or another footballer/cricketer Eric Freeman clobbering Lance Gibbs over the Eastern Gates and the ball bouncing down Victor Richardson Drive to King William Road where it could’ve been run over by a bus. Or Bill Lawry – yes, he – hitting a huge on drive to the eastern end of the Scoreboard bar on the way to the first-ever one-day century scored in Australia. Or Craig McDermott walloping ‘Big Bird’ Joel Garner straight over the sightscreen and halfway up the North Mound.

I’m sure they’d be interested.

I tell my mate instead as Warner’s six earns two flashes of the flares.

Warner is out not long after and that earns two flashes as well. It shows the value of a wicket, the value of bowlers. The crowd doesn’t come for the wickets. The hits are the fix. Down below the dancing girls are making motions but they don’t register for those of us on high. Nor for most people in the ground. They’re gyrating for the folks back home. Television is king, this is the TV game.

The bowlers come and go. There’s a few bars of the Chicken Dance over the PA. Someone says it’s to replace the banned American Wave. I check the scoreboard and it shows that the main bowlers have each delivered three overs. Curious, a four over spell must be too heavy a workload or it’s a tactical manoeuvre. If so, it’s beyond my ken. Dave Smith makes 43, Henriques 41. It’s bits and pieces here and there. Nothing much that adds up.

The target is 153 when the interval comes. My mate says ‘Skull’ will probably be rabbiting on about ‘par’. He hates it when commentators introduce terminology from other sports. We grab that second beer, discuss his ups and downs, work out future plans, skip the first few overs of the Redbacks reply, hear a few roars and hurry back. It’s now something like 82 runs off 60 balls, eight wickets remain, situation well in hand.

And so it goes.

Harris and Borgas smash runs in all directions, 18 come from an over by Blues’ fast-medium Scott Coyte, balls crash into and over boundaries.

I’m absent at the death. My car is at the tennis club next door and the park is shutting at 10pm. I leave my seat at 9.45 as the runs are raining. By the time I hasten down the stairs and behind the stands it’s all over with 15 balls to spare. As I reach the Phil Ridings Entrance Gates, first out of the ground, the fireworks display is already cracking. As if there weren’t fireworks enough.

I drive out and beat the traffic getting away. A quick review: a trophy yes, good to win and at least it was Harris and Borgas, two born-and-bred South Aussies, who led the way. Of the occasion, and not to be too churlish, it was fun. A nice night out. Entertainment. But sport?

Come again?

Sport can be fun but it’s also much besides.

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) who has just written his 40th book. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Among his most recent books are George Giffen: A Biography, The Towns: 100 Years of Glory 1919-2018, Joe Darling: Cricketer, Farmer, Politician and Family Man (with Graeme Ryan) and The MCC Official Ashes Treasures (5th edition).


  1. If you think the absence of Croweaters in the current
    “Redbacks” side is a problem, Bernard, wait until next year’s Big Bash. The city or stadium T20 teams are reputedly going to either “purchase” players a la IPL or draft them a la AFL.

    So next year the Adelaide T20 team will probably include players who are playing Shield cricket for Victoria or Queensland while the Shield team will include Melbourne Docklands and Brisbane T20 players. I have no idea how the Shield and Big Bash competitions will run simultaneously given that players will be shuffling all over the country, but that alright, I don’t think Cricket Australia has any idea either!

  2. bernard whimpress says


    You are right. However, I don’t think Saturday night transformed me into a devotee. I’ll probably blank out large portions of next summer.


  3. Bernard, I think you should strat a campaign: “Flares for dot balls”. I’m going to mention it on Offsiders one day, and see whether we can get some support.

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