Remembering another cricket spectacle in Melbourne: The 1977 Centenary Test

Mar 30, 2015, 08:32 IST | Ashwin Ferro

Could the 2015 WC final be compared to another event? Yes, felt some old faithfuls at the MCG - the 1977 Centenary Test between England and Australia where Greg Chappell’s hosts took on Tony Greig’s Englishmen

Melbourne: To say the atmosphere at yesterday’s Australia vs New Zealand World Cup final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was unbelievable would be an understatement. Could it be compared to another event? Yes, felt some old faithfuls at the iconic venue -- the 1977 Centenary Test between England and Australia where Greg Chappell’s hosts took on Tony Greig’s Englishmen.

The event, conceptualised by then Melbourne Cricket Club vice-president and former Test player Hans Ebeling, celebrated 100 years of Test cricket in fine fashion. The hosts invited every living Australian and English Test cricketer for the event and the person in-charge of sending out all those invitations and ensuring most made it to Melbourne for the March 12-17, 1977 Test is still working away -- at the library of the Melbourne Cricket Club as a Research and Administrative Officer (Museum Department).

Peta Phillips
Peta Phillips at the Melbourne Cricket Club library. Pic/Ashwin Ferro

Meet Peta Phillips (67) who has been working here since the last 41 years, starting off in 1973 as Personal Assistant to then MCC vice-president Ian Johnson.
Excerpts from an interview:

What a great idea, Mr Ebeling!

Hans EbelingHans Ebeling. Pic courtesy: ABC

In 1975, two years before the Centenary Test took place, MCC vice president, late Hans Ebeling, who was a member of the 1934 Australian team to England, mooted the idea of celebrating the Centenary Test with my then boss late Ian Johnson. It took us two years to plan the Centenary Test. I was given the job of working on the invites. We contacted the players one by one and even liaised with the Marylebone Cricket Club. We contacted hotels, airlines -- Hilton and Qantas helped us out.

When Prince Phillip surprised us
I will maintain for the rest of my life that this is where I got all my knowledge of Australia and England cricket personalities. I was seated in a small room, along with just eight other MCG staffers, and we worked close to 12 hours-a-day to help make the Centenary Test a reality. It was a huge project in those days and Ebeling was brave enough to take it on.

I remember it was the third day of the Test and I was in discussions with the Federal Police and Victoria Police about the security details of Her Majesty, the Queen of England who was to come to the MCG for the game on that day. Just then, I saw a familiar figure emerge from the Jolimont Road entrance and I recognised him. He was Prince Phillip. It so happened that the Queen and Prince Phillip were on official engagements in Melbourne and were to visit the MCG later.

However, Prince Phillip, I later learnt, got tired of some of the earlier commitments and decided to watch some cricket, so he came here.

He walked in only with his private detective and no other security personnel. So I immediately called up Johnson and told him that Prince Phillip was coming his way from the back staircase, and he said ‘you’re joking. The Prince won’t come like that unannounced.’ But he did.

Enter, the Queen of England
The Queen came later from the members’ entrance and went into the Long Room. Now, in those days, ladies were not allowed inside the Long Room, so she was the first woman to enter it.

She first presented the Order of Australia to a wheelchair-bound Robert Menzies, who was Australian Prime Minister from 1949 to 1966.

The Queen then went on to the ground to meet the teams which were all spruced up with their fine jackets and that’s where Dennis Lillee asked her for an autograph and she said, ‘I cant do that.’ But some months later, Lillee got a photograph signed by the Queen in the mail.

What a brave man, McCosker!

Australian Rick McCosker tackling Bob Willis with a bandaged face in Australia’s second innings after the batsman’s jaw was fractured by the same bowler in the first innings on March 12, 1977. PIC/GETTY IMAGES

One of the highlights of that match was when Rick McCosker suffered a broken jaw -- hit by a bouncer from Bob Willis. The crowd collectively sighed when he was hit and he received a lot of sympathy. The Queen was introduced to McCosker and I remember him trying to smile through those bandages. McCosker was supposed to be taken to hospital, but he insisted he’d stay on in case his team needed him to bat. They did and he went out bravely, and each time he touched the ball, there were collective ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ from the crowd.

Young Hookes stunned Greig
I remember a young David Hookes making an absolute fool of Tony Greig. Hookes was playing his first Test and he took five consecutive fours off Greig. Another incident I remember involved England’s Derek Randall, who scored 174. Randall was caught by Rod Marsh when he was on 161, but shockingly, Marsh said he had not taken the catch cleanly and Randall was called back.

Rival captains Tony Greig (left) and Greg Chappell at the toss. Pic/Getty Images

The 45-run coincidence
Amazingly, the margin of victory for Australia was 45 runs -- exactly as the first Test 100 years ago. Many people said it was set up, but obviously it wasn’t. That’s simply how incredible the game of cricket is.

Later, there was a dinner for the players, and I remember meeting Percy Fender, who played for England and he came in a wheelchair with his grandson. Then there was Alec Bedser, Keith Miller, Graham McKenzie and Neil Hawke. I didn’t dare miss out my names in that list which had a total of 140 players plus their wives and partners.

Nothing equals the Centenary Test
I learnt so much from the Centenary Test. In the 41 years that I am here, there has not been a single cricket function that has equalled that, and I worked on the 1985 World Championship of Cricket and the 1992 World Cup here too. That Test was all about cricket and all about age-old rivalry between Australia and England. Later, I joined the MCC library and I now work on the archives here. I think I’m close to an archive myself.

High drama on and off the field
Max Walker

Max Walker, who bowled for Australia in that Test, wrote in Hooked on Cricket about what he felt when a bandaged Rick McCosker walked out to join Rod Marsh in the second innings: “The hair on the back of my neck stood up. No one in the rooms spoke as a dozen pairs of eyes watched Rick walk to the wicket. It must have been terribly difficult for him to mentally suppress the image of the gold Kookaburra which had crashed into his face barely 48 hours before. Rick made only a couple of dozen but the 50-odd partnership with Marshy set up the victory and we won the game. Seeing Rick go back and do it all again will always remain a marvelous moment for me and the huge MCG crowd.”

Rod Marsh 

Rod Marsh, who was joined by the injured Rick McCosker, had a memorable match. Apart from becoming the first Australian wicketkeeper to score a century in England vs Australia Tests, he also surpassed Wally Grout’s Australian record of 187 Test victims. In Cricket in the 1970s, by Mike Coward, Marsh said, “It was fantastic to see Rick come out. I didn’t believe that he would and I thought: ‘Jesus, Greg (Chappell) you’re a hard man sending him out.’ But I think Rick himself just wanted to come out. That was a very special moment.’

Eddie Paynter

Eddie Paynter. Pic courtesy: An Eye for Cricket

Among the old former England players to visit Melbourne was Eddie Paynter at 77. In the 1932-33 Bodyline series, Paynter shrugged off tonsilitis and high temperature from his hospital bed and went out to join his team when wickets were falling in the Brisbane Test. In An Eye for Cricket, John Arlott wrote: “No one enjoyed the Centenary Test celebrations more than Eddie Paynter. His brown eyes alive with memory and enjoyment, he could not speak warmly enough of the local Lancashire testimonial that paid for his travel to and from London and his hotels there, to enable him to make the trip.”

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