Clayton Murzello: Thanks for the memories
The WACA, which hosts its final Ashes Test today, was not only about pace. Rows, humour and an epic India win in 2008 made it special too
The Western Australia Cricket Association ground (WACA) was Australia's junior-most Test ground till Hobart's Bellerive Oval hosted the 1989 Test match involving the Sri Lankans. Today's third Ashes Test is the WACA's final big ticket Test match and, henceforth, high-profile international games will be held at the new Perth Stadium which has better facilities and a capacity of 60,000 as against WACA's 20,000.
A warm-up match between England and Western Australia XI in progress at the Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) ground last month. Pic/Getty Images
The WACA has been synonymous with pace bowling, although the pitch got progressively friendlier to batsmen than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. I've often heard an apocryphal story about a captain walking up to a batsman on the morning of a Test match and informing him that he has been drafted into the playing XI at the WACA because another player was injured and the response from the reserve player was, "Why me?"
The WACA pitch was still quick when I covered the Sachin Tendulkar-led Indian team's couple of one-day internationals (vs Pakistan and Australia) there during the triangular series of the 1999-2000 summer. The two games saw some serious trigger-happy opposition pace bowlers - Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath.
India's one-day campaign ended in Perth, which left hosts Australia and Pakistan to contest the best of three finals. Bishan Singh Bedi's side was the first Indian team to play a Test at the WACA, where they took on Bob Simpson's establishment-backed team during Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in 1977-78. Jeff Thomson made up the fear factor. Allan Border, who was then playing for New South Wales, ended a Sheffield Shield game three days before the Perth Test and said, "If Thommo bowls as fast as that in Perth, he's likely to kill someone."
But the Indian team were not short of brave men in those pre-helmet days. Sunil Gavaskar became India's first centurion at Perth in the second innings, before Mohinder Amarnath followed up his first innings 90 with 100. Of Amarnath's 90, Ray Robinson, the doyen of Australian writers, wrote: "He stood up to Thomson's rising balls unflinchingly. Though felled by a head blow from left hander Sam Gannon's bouncer, he overcame dizziness and headache and did not discard the hook."
Bedi declared the second innings closed at 330 when last man Bhagwat Chandrasekhar was struck on the left boot by Thomson, setting Australia a target of 339. When opener John Dyson fell to Bedi in the evening of the fourth day, Simpson sent in his googly bowler Tony Mann as nightwatchman. Mann defied the Indian attack for the most part of the following day and scored a hundred while doing so. It helped Australia to win by two wickets and go two-up in the series. India won the next two Tests at Melbourne and Sydney, only to lose the final one in Adelaide.
India's next Test at Perth came 14 years later and although Australia under Border won it convincingly, Sachin Tendulkar made it memorable with a hundred he probably rates as his finest. Tendulkar ended up being in an Indian team that won a Test at the WACA and he scored 71 in the first innings during that famous 2007-08 Test. The WACA has witnessed some red hot controversies as well. The Dennis Lillee-Javed Miandad fracas in 1981-82 tops the list and if that was ugly, so was the Lillee aluminium bat incident which took place in 1979-80. In 1982-83, Australian swing bowler Terry Alderman dislocated his shoulder while fighting a fan.
The WACA shouldn't be remembered only for hard cricket and controversies. There were some funny moments too. Colin Cowdrey, returning to the England team at the age of 41, decided to greet terror Thomson in the 1974-75 Ashes Test with the words, "Good morning, my name's Cowdrey." In 1979-80, Border was so filled with disappointment at getting out for a low score that he walked into the dressing room, flung his bat and gloves, and mouthed a few expletives. He soon discovered he had accidentally returned to an empty England dressing room!
The Chappell brothers - Ian and Greg - wouldn't have been laughing then, but they can certainly do so now, when they recall Roy Fredericks' sizzling 169 in 1975-76. While Fredericks was tearing Lillee and Thomson to shreds, the crowd started applauding. Ian looked at the scoreboard and discovered WI had reached 200. He then looked on the right-hand corner of the board which indicated that it was only the 20th over of the innings. He asked Greg standing at second slip, "Have you looked at the number of overs?" and Greg's reply was, "Mate, I'm not going to. It's alright for you... you're not the captain!"
This season's Ashes may be decided in Perth even before the week ends. It will be a nice way for Australians to say goodbye to a venue which has given them more pleasure than pain; more wins than losses. However, at the end of the day, comfort level for the fans is paramount. The new stadium will attract more spectators and the romantics must understand that.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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