Almanac Cricket: Weird and wonderful WACA

 

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What is it about the WACA (ground) that produces so many memorable moments, infamous incidents and phenomenal performances?

Is it the stinking hot weather that always seems to arrive no matter what month of the year the WACA Test is held? Even this year, Perth has shivered through its coldest October and wettest winter in decades yet the forecast maximum for Day Three (Saturday) is 35, the hottest day Perth has experienced since last summer.

Is it the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ that the visiting commentators seem obliged to mention at least once in each stint at the microphone throughout the Test? If you were to have a sip of your beverage each time the afternoon sea breeze is mentioned it is likely that you would be passed out before the players enjoy their drinks break in the second session of Day One.

Is it the iconic rock-hard pitch that used to see the occasional bumper almost reach the sight screen on the full? Unfortunately the pitch isn’t quite what it used to be and is more likely to flatten out into the most benign road in world cricket than see batsmen ducking and wicket-keepers diving. In the old days the pitch would sometimes crack up in a way that would give Billy Birmingham licence to suggest that the late Tony Greig might lose one of his ‘Julius Marlows’ down one of the craters (read this in your best Tony Greig voice for full effect).

Looking back over the years it is fair to suggest that the WACA has experienced far more than its fair share of unforgettable memories. Prior to every Perth Test Match the press launch into their annual ‘Ten Famous WACA Moments’ and inevitably the list leaves me asking, “What about…?”

The WACA has only been a Test venue for 46 years and 42 Tests have been played on the ground in that time. The first was the 2nd Ashes Test in 1970 and wandered aimlessly towards a miserable draw. It took another four years before Perth was given another opportunity to host a Test and perhaps the authorities had a chat to Doug Walters to ensure that there would be no such boredom this time around as the swashbuckling all-rounder launched a brilliant century in a session, reaching the milestone by hooking a six off the last ball.

Attacking batting has often been a feature of matches at the WACA despite the venue’s reputation as a fast bowler’s paradise. Who can forget Adam Gilchrist’s remarkable assault on Monty Panesar and the rest of the England bowlers in the 2006 Ashes Test? A century off 57 balls, narrowly missing the record for the fastest ton, was the perfect way for Aussie fans to celebrate regaining the Ashes after the surprise loss in England a year earlier.

David Warner tried his best to keep pace with the dynamic wicket-keeper six years later when he tore the Indians apart late on the first day. The home side made the most of the Day One wicket with the ball before Warner crashed his way to a 69-ball hundred, finishing with 180 from 159 deliveries to leave the tourists stunned.

Hard-hitting West Indian opener Chris Gayle was another to enjoy the conditions in Perth in 2010, reaching his century in only 70 balls. And of course yet another left-handed opener, Matthew Hayden set a world record high of 380 against an inexperienced Zimbabwe attack in 2003. Curiously, Hayden batted another 14 times at the WACA and couldn’t match what he achieved in that one knock (369 runs).

South Africa’s batsmen have made Perth a second home in recent visits, comfortably chasing a massive 414 for victory in 2009, and Hashim Amla and AB DeVilliers feasted on the Australian bowlers in Ricky Ponting’s final Test when the selectors controversially decided to rest almost the entire bowling line-up following a draw in Adelaide in the previous Test.

Even Shane Warne, who never quite found the pitch to his liking with the ball, had his moments with the bat at the WACA, falling one run short of what would have been a maiden Test ton. Adding to the drama, replays later suggested that the Daniel Vettori delivery that Warne tried to launch over the boundary was in fact a no-ball.

It hasn’t always been aggressive batting creating the headlines at the WACA. In 1989 Mark Greatbatch, who would later become known for revolutionising the opener’s role in limited overs cricket when New Zealand surprised the world at the 1992 World Cup, put all his shots away to stonewall for five minutes short of 11 hours, guiding the Kiwis to a draw.

Of course the feats of bowlers is what WACA Tests are best remembered for and there’s a long list of outstanding performances, often from some of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game.

The team that has most enjoyed visiting Perth is not surprisingly the West Indies. Their famous four-pronged pace battery was made for the WACA and Allan Border went as far as to say that playing in Perth was like playing an ‘away’ match at home. Andy Roberts was first to fill his boots with 7/54 in the Windies first experience at the venue and then in 1984 it was the turn of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding when they ripped through the Aussies in 30 overs, all out 76, even before Courtney Walsh was given a chance to come to the bowling crease.

But above all of the great West Indian quicks to take full advantage of the pace and bounce of the WACA was the menacing Curtley Ambrose. Ambrose first made an impression in 1988 when he broke Geoff Lawson’s jaw with a vicious bouncer. In his next visit, in the deciding Test of the thrilling 1992-93 series, he destroyed the Australian line-up with a spell of 7/1 in 32 balls to ensure the Windies weren’t about to hand over the status of best in the world just yet. The classy speedster made one more appearance in a Test in Perth when he bowled a 15-ball over (nine no-balls!) but still claimed another bag of five wickets.

Of course Australian bowlers have always been keen to see their name on the team sheet when the Perth Test rolled around each year. Merv Hughes took eight wickets including a peculiar hat-trick in the same match where Lawson was felled. His three wickets spanned three overs and two innings, finishing with Gordon Greenidge trapped LBW while the Perth crowd bayed for blood in revenge for Lawson.

Glenn McGrath also achieved the rare feat of three wickets in three balls against the West Indies in 2000. The second of his wickets, the great Brian Lara, was Pigeon’s 300th in Test Matches and was predicted by the confident seamer in a media interview leading into the match. McGrath also took Pakistan apart with figures of 8/24 in 2004 when the visitors could only manage 74 in their second innings.

More recently it has been adopted West Aussie Mitchell Johnson doing damage at the WACA. His six wicket blitz late in South Africa’s first innings in 2009 turned the match in favour of the hosts before the Proteas produced the second-highest run chase in Test history. Johnson finished with 8/61 including six wickets in a spell and then almost matched that effort the following year when he blew England away. This time the left-armer took four quick top order wickets to bring Australia back into the Ashes series on the back of his 6/38 in the first innings.

There have been plenty of bizarre and infamous moments on the WACA in its history as well. Home-town hero Dennis Lillee was responsible for a couple of the more unusual flashpoints, firstly when he attempted to use an aluminium bat against England in 1979 and then when he ‘playfully’ kicked antagonistic Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad ‘up the bum’. The photo of Miandad with his bat raised ready to clobber the Aussie quick with umpire Tony Crafter standing between the pair like a boxing referee is one of the most iconic in Australian cricket history.

Another local bowler, Terry Alderman was involved in an incident that would change the course of his career during the Ashes Test in 1982. The swing bowler was irritated with spectators who repeated invaded the ground late in the afternoon and, after being assaulted by one intruder took matters into his own hands, tackling him to the ground and dislocating his shoulder in the process. Alderman missed over a year of cricket after the incident and it took many seasons before he was able to regain his place in the Australian side.

With such a high strike rate of memorable moments, no Test cricket in Perth in 2014, and last year’s run-fest that may still have ended in a draw if it was played under the old ‘Timeless Test’ format, it would appear that we are due for something special at the WACA this week. With the new Perth Stadium being built just across the river (look out for endless camera shots on the TV coverage this week – a new drinking game to replace the Fremantle Doctor game perhaps?) and casting a figurative shadow across the tiring WACA ground who knows how many more of these famous incidents there will be?

So this year, will it be another blazing batting effort? Perhaps a blitz from a quick bowler? Or another crazy calamity from the cricketers or the crowd? Whatever happens over the five days coming up, it is always worth watching a WACA Test.

 

 

 

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About David Lindsay

Sports broadcaster with SportFM, ABC Grandstand & NIRS in Perth. WAFL reporter with The Sunday Times. Sports nut(ter)

Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    Grand compilation, reggie.
    Over in the east, my memories of the WACA Test are of getting home from school to find most of the day’s play still remaining.
    Having dinner, playing backyard cricket until dusk, and heading inside for even MORE Test cricket under daylight.
    There was always a hint of the wild frontier about WACA Tests.
    A touch of big swinging doors and blow flies.
    A hint of unbearable heat and hard edges.
    Spinifex and thorny devils.
    But then spinnakers on the Swan and lush old King’s Park as well.
    Bright light and big sky country.

    Looking forward to it.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Great piece David.

    Can I add Greg Chappell’s debut, Gloucester Park and the Police HQ as my indelible WACA images.

  3. Hughes getting 99 against the Poms and listening to him crack the home gonna couple of years later as we played the back nine at Bexley.

    Roy Fredericks/

    DK destroying the world

    Best test of the summer

  4. I remember watching on TV when the commentators were housed across the road, I think in a newspaper office, and there was a constant bed of clacking typewriters under the descriptions of play.

    Continuing the aural theme I recall Gilchrist’s 2006 Ashes century and how the sound of bat on ball was like a whip being cracked just behind my chair.

    Thanks Reggie.

  5. Great memories David. The “stadium” is a dump unless you are in the Lillee Marsh stand in the Members.
    I went on the first day last year sitting on plastic picnic chairs roped together on temporary wooden stands under a lean-to.
    Since the WACA went broke the pitch has become a mausoleum to guarantee five days of ticket receipts. This is a dead parrot.

  6. Dave Brown says:

    Good list – would submit Jacques Rudolph batting for a day and a half to save the 2005 test for SAfrica and the 11 fors picked up by McDermott and Whitney in various tests

  7. Mark Waugh’s catch against New Zealand (97-98 I think) is one that still sticks in my mind – YouTube helps of course: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4GN9lvaPxM

  8. Steve Fahey says:

    Enjoyed your article Reggie, the mystique of the WACA has always grabbed me.

    You might be interested in the piece I wrote on the WACA in 2010 – see https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/why-i-love-the-perth-test/

  9. Thanks Steve, nice one yourself.

    Dave – I think Mark Waugh might have put Vettori onto the Lillee Marsh Stand roof in the same match?

    Dave brown – Yep, Jacques channelled Greatbatch I think

    Peter B – it’s a shocker, unfortunately

    Mark – Add Ponting’s 96 on debut v Sri Lanka and a stinker of an LBW decision to rob him of a ton

  10. The famous,Gillette cup game Wa v Qld when,DK Lillee managed to bowl the Sandgropers to victory defending 77 dismissing V Richards and G Chappell
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YDJ2sBtp4MA

  11. Reggie- Mark Waugh did help Vettori onto the roof in that match. The youtube footage is most instructive regarding the relationship between the Waugh twins. I wrote about it (and other sixes I’ve seen) here-

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/six-sixes/

    This is shaping up as an excellent comments thread!

  12. Peter Warrington says:

    that drawn test against NZ after Parore’s super ton was superb. sensing that Waugh and Gilly had played it to crate a T20 chase, and it looked doable until the freaky runout, and then trying to hang on for a draw. remember draws?

    Roo Yardley’s rare 6-for, against good players of spin. drift, drop and the baseball grip.

    Jeez Holding was scary quick that day in 84-5. Broke my heart, but you had to applaud.

    Steve and Woody battling in 88-9, a false hope but boy they were good that day.

    Davey Gower’s ton in 78-9 was a peach, too. I think Peter Toohey made arre post-jaw runs that game?

    etc etc etc

  13. The Waughs have some history at the ground – 450+ partnership for NSW v WA, Mark run out acting as a runner for McDermott while trying to pinch a single to get Steve from 99 to 100.

  14. Peter Warrington says:

    Dirk Schuller 0-22 off 2 overs in that semi, and a duck, and I think he let through a 4 off Yardley or dropped a catch or something. Un-Man of the Match.

  15. Peter Warrington says:

    Denis. Not Dirk. Melbourne Cup Day

    (he was sort of Harry Frei before Harry was.)

  16. charlie brown says:

    Barry Richards 300 in a day vs Lillee, McKenzie, Mann, Lock et al. (Plus a pretty handy century by Chappelli in the same innings)

    C. Ambrose 7/1 in a spell??

    Swish – yes my other early memories include also Greg Chappell’s century with Norman may comentating and the trotting track..

  17. jan courtin says:

    Retiring in 2010, we lashed out and drove to all five tests against the Poms. Bought tickets to all matches but none available in Perth. Mark Neeld (a relative) put us onto a former Victorian wicket keeper who had moved to Perth and we got seats in the Members. Despite having to line up each morning at 5am, we were thrilled with Mitch Johnson’s performance and our only win in the series!

    That result certainly made the trip back across the Nullabor a little easier!

    Hoping to do it again next year.

  18. charlie brown says:

    Doug Walters 100 in a session 74/75 (six off last ball from Bob Willis i think)

  19. Mark neeld! Underrated at the Tigers. Kicked some handy goals.

  20. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Many memorable WACA moments David. One of the few pitches in Australia that allows a gripping contest between bat and ball.

    Curtly Ambrose’s 7 for 1 was fast bowling at its frightening best.
    Graeme Wood’s feisty 111 in 1988-9 was one I remember as I watched him take on the might of the Windies. If only he could run between wickets…

  21. Here’s Curtley – makes it look all so easy

  22. The miracle,Gillette cup game in 76-77 when DK Lillee inspired W- to someone defend 77 against a
    Qld with IVA Richards and GS Chappell in the end winning by 15 runs !
    The rest of the Worlc game in 71 when Lillee took 8 wickets including,G Sobers for a duck
    back in the glory days of the fast wicket
    Here are the highlights from the Gillette cup game
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YDJ2sBtp4MA

  23. Gilchrist’s ton v England.
    Surely the most astonishing display of clean hitting that one would ever hope to witness.

    The dynamics of the new stadium will be interesting.

  24. Mick Jeffrey says:

    Never forget coming home from High School in 1997 and watching Mark Waugh launch a young Daniel Vettori onto the Lillee-Marsh stand roof. All seemed so easy.

  25. Mick Jeffrey says:

    Can’t believe it’s also been 4 years since I took 3 flights in 3 days just to watch Day 1 of what turned out to be Ricky Ponting’s last test. Moment of the day……Australia batting late in the day lost a 2nd wicket. Crowd rises anticipating the retiring hero’s entrance………then came the chorus of boos as the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon strode to the crease. If you look hard enough you may even find my report on that day!

  26. Where do we put Chris Tavare’s knock on the first day and a bit of the 82/83 Ashes series.

    It was a great match saving knock, but not for the opening day of a series.

    Glen!

  27. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

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