The other day a work colleague asked me why I was so passionate about cricket. Surprisingly I struggled to give him a coherent answer.
As a German born my parents and I immigrated to Australia when I was seven and I bought my German passion for soccer with me. Even at such a tender young age I could have given you a full and detailed breakdown on the inner most workings of the Bayern München soccer team but I would have struggled to tell you who Kim Hughes was, let alone what he did.
As a little nipper growing up in the leafy suburb of East Fremantle it was swimming at a beach, building cubby houses, riding my bike and giving Mum and Dad grey hairs that occupied most of my time. Even at a primary school seemingly full of aspiring Allan Border’s and Dean Jones’ I was more interested in playing British Bulldog and I distinctively remember the first time I actually dared to pick up a cricket bat I held it back to front. Finally, not having a television may have also been a contributing factor towards my proclivity to run amuck in the great outdoors rather than plonking myself down in front of the idiot box.
At the age of nine we moved 180 kilometres south, to Australind, a small satellite suburb of Bunbury. It was here that we finally got a television but with only two channels available it wasn’t something that grabbed my attention. So on the bike and off to the beach it was for me.
However, as many of you know, summers in Australia can get just a tad warm and my pocket money was struggling to cover the amount of inner tubes I was blowing on my bike due to the tarmac being so hot it melted. So inside I went, turned on the television and the rest is history.
Now after five paragraphs you are probably wondering when I plan to get to the point. Well, this year I turn 39. So I thought I would celebrate the 30th anniversary of my cricket addiction with my personal list of 10 matches that I have attended or watched that I would very much love to see again.
There is no rhyme of reason to this list. Some of you may think that one or more were stultifying boring, other may just say “Meh” but to me they all represent everything that is great, and noble, and interesting, and unpredictable, and controversial about the this game we call cricket.
With all that out of the way I’d like to take you back to New Years Day 1996. Visiting Australia at the time was Sri Lanka and theWest Indies and the tri nation Benson & Hedges (remember cigarette advertising!!!!) World Series was in full swing. At the time I was living with a group of friends in a share house just outside of Perth. Nursing post New Year’s Eve hangovers of varying grades of severity we weren’t capable of doing much more than sitting in front of the television feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves.
On that particular day we were due match five from the Sydney Cricket Ground with Australia and theWest Indiesproviding the entertainment. Despite the pounding headache I was looking forward to this one as two of my all time favourites, Curtly Ambrose and Michael Bevan, would be going head to head.
Even 16 years later Michael Bevan remains one of the enigma’s of Australian cricket. Arguably one of the greatest limited over players to have put on the coloured pyjamas his career still has a massive “what if” hanging over it. Some say he failed to reach his full potential due a perceived weakness against short pitched bowling. Others say he was simply ahead of his time.
I say he was the thinker in an Australia side full of doers; he was in to risk minimisation when other players freed the arms and took a chance. He spoke in audaciously run two’s and blindly quick singles when others tried to talk in four’s and sizes. He was the Ivan Lendl of cricket; the walking calculator, the stereotypical Iceman.
Getting back to the match the West Indies won the toss and decided to put some runs on the board. From the outset you got the impression that this was going to be a walk in the park for Australia, especially once theWest Indies hit 5/54 with Paul Rieffel being the chief destroyer. Even 2 hours of rain which reduced the game to 43 overs each didn’t bring any relief and apart from a 93 not out from Carl Hooper the rest of the West Indian side struggled to get to double figures and their inning petered to a close with them being all out for 172.
My friends and I thought that the Aussie’s would reach this score at a canter and were contemplating heading down to the beach for a swim. Yet we along with the Australian cricket team had not counted on Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose!
Curtly, Curtly, Curtly. I think he was the last of the great West Indian fast bowlers. He came into the game at a time when not every West Indian over six foot immediately signed up with the NBA. Instead he picked up a cricket ball went down to the nets and began to learn the skills necessary to knock batsmen unconscious.
Curtly was (and still is) around 6’7” and it has been calculated that at the point of release he was letting the ball go from a height of about 9’. Even pitching on a good length a ball released from that height has a good chance of taking your helmet (or your head) off. I had the opportunity to meet him a few months later when the West Indies travelled to WA to playSri Lanka and even had I stood on a table I think he still would have looked down at me.
Bowling back of a length deliveries with the balls jagging both ways off the seam he was mesmerising; whilst our top order was stunned like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. If the West Indians felt bad at 5/54 I doubt they felt as bad as we did after Curtly and Ottis Gibson with the assistance of two run outs had us at 6/38.
Then out strode Michael Gwyl Bevan. At 6/38 with 135 still to get and only the tail to bat with you had the feeling that even the mighty Bevan was going to struggle to get us home. But then again they didn’t call him The Finisher for nothing.
With overs to spare the first item on Michael’s agenda was to steady the ship, a task he was ably assisted in by Ian Healy. Then, with the Australian wicketkeeper on 16 andAustraliaon 74, Harper managed to get one past the bat and we were now 7 down.
Replacing Healy was Paul Ronald Rieffel. Now Pistol Pete always fancied himself as a bit of an all-rounder and was out to prove a point. Slowly, slowly he and Bevan ticked off the runs to have Australia at 157 before he spooned a delivery off part-timer Simmons into the hands of Hooper.
Our last realistic hope, Shane Warne, came and went, run out for 3 and with Australia now at 9/167 and Glenn McGrath striding somewhat sheepishly to the crease we were prepared to call time on this match and resume drinking. Yet the beers remained unopened as McGrath surprised us all by holding up his side of the bargain, namely not getting out to Carl Hooper and before you knew it Australia needed 5 off 3.
Now I was sitting on the couch, to my left was one housemate Matthew, on my right was John, a leftover from the night before. Stretch was climbing in through the lounge room window as the door was locked and we did not want to get up to open it and risk missing something. On the floor lay Kate, not a genuine cricket fan, but still as enthralled as we were and standing behind the couch was Dana.
Back to the SCG McGrath briefly became the hero of the nation when he managed to get some smidgeon of his bat on the ball and with more luck than talent guide it deep enough into the covers for Bevan to regain the strike. 4 runs required, 2 balls remaining.
Bevan moved away from the crease, took off his helmet and gloves, did some stretches, took some deep breaths, said a few prayers and then took strike. Hooper promptly speared in a fuller, quicker delivery that tailed in towards middle stump and Bevan could do no more than bunt it back to the bowler. 4 runs required, 1 ball remaining.
Matthew was repeatedly muttering the F-word under his breath, Stretch was frozen, half in, half out the window and I was sucking on a cigarette, not realising it had gone out at least half an hour earlier.
Hooper came in again, this one looked to have some width to it and it pitched on a slightly more conventional length. You could see Bevan’s eyes widen slightly and to my dying day I will swear he said “You’ll do!” Bevan backed away from his middle stump, giving himself room, his bat swinging down for a cross bat shot that wasn’t the most conventional stroke Bevan had ever played but my God it was beautiful.
West Indian captain Courtney Walsh had both a long off and a long on in place but neither of them had a hope in hell in catching this one as it neatly bisected them both and clattered into the boundary barrier. FOUR!
Matthew jumped up, pumping his firsts in the air and screaming “You f**king beauty” before losing some skin off his knuckles as the ceiling fan was right above his head and going at full power. I doubt he even felt it. Stretch fell to the floor before getting up and looking for someone to high five. Dana crossed himself and looked towards the heavens whilst I almost stood on poor Kate who was probably glad it was all over as Friends was on in 10 minutes.
Bevan you bloody beauty, you hero, you legend, Bevan for Prime Minister. To celebrate we dragged half a carton of beer out of the fridge and it vanished almost immediately as Bevan stood in the centre of the SCG, arms outstretched a look of triumph (and probably a fair bit of relief as well) on his face.
The West Indies could do no more than shake their heads and his hand. When they had reduced us to 6/38 many rightfully thought it was all over bar the shouting. Yet they had not counted on The Master of the Run Chase, The Master Manipulator, The Finisher, The Iceman Michael Gwyl Bevan.