Story & photo John Campbell
When the best is saved until the last, it’s even better. Am I right?
My year in the bleachers had rewarded me with no moments of ecstasy, no triumphs of red-hot parochialism.
In March, I made my way to the Delhi test match, only to see Australia put in a spin and humiliated in three days by MS Dhoni’s rampant Indians. Admittedly, I can now boast that I saw SR Tendulkar, the demi-god, bat in front of his adoring mob, and was there when SR Watson captained the Australian XI for the first and probably (it is to be hoped) only time. Otherwise, what will stick in my mind is the racket that erupted upon MG Johnson’s first ball dismissal and was maintained unabated as PM Siddle dawdled to the crease to face the hat-trick – that and the spew I had behind the grandstand after eating some dodgy bhelpuri (nobody batted an eyelid).
In July I was at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium with Washington Minor, an old footy pal, for the State of Origin decider. We were pumped and, if not entirely convinced that our boys in blue could do it, we talked-up big time the chances of NSW at last ending the seven-year dominance of the odious Canetoads. Queensland won 12–10. It was close, but the score flattered us and the recurring memory will be of a fat idiot who looked like Uncle Fester streaking towards the action as Jonathan Thurston orchestrated yet another raid on our line.
October’s grand final was an anticlimax even before the kick-off. I was once more accompanied by Minor, but as our beloved Rabbitohs had been eliminated the week before, our hearts weren’t really in it – in fact, with the combatants being Manly and Easts, we took our seats in the nosebleeds wishing a pox on both their houses and lamenting the fact that they couldn’t simultaneously be beaten. Jessica Mauboy, at least, in her tight yellow dress, was fab.
And so to the Ashes.
With my little mate Rapid Eye Movement, I drove to the Gabba on November 22 for the second day of the First Test (playing the Rolling Stones’ 12×5 on the car stereo. ‘It’s a bit like Chuck Berry, id’n it.’ He’s young, iMoo, but more than just a pretty face). After the towelling Australia took in England, neither of us was bullish.
BJ Haddin would resume on 78, so we crossed our fingers for the Aussie ’keeper’s ton. The Vulture Street end was still only half full when he ran himself out for 95 and the Australian innings finished for fewer than 300. Not a great start.
Out strode the tourists’ openers. Captain AN Cook, MBE, and the journeyman MA Carberry, with whom we were unfamiliar.
Sedately, untroubled, they progressed to 28… and then, just as we were nodding off, Cook edged one behind off Harris. There was something innocuous about the way he’d departed that ran contrary to all that we expected of him (on his last trip, we couldn’t get the bastard out!). Worried that Cook may have remained unbeaten at stumps, iMoo and I looked at each with hope swelling. IJL Trott, privately suffering in a dark place of his own, went soon after and you could feel the mood of the crowd surging – not that DA Warner’s subsequent crass comments can in any way be condoned (somebody should tell Davey that nobody likes a bad loser, but that a bad winner is even less attractive).
If ever we needed to be reminded that TV can’t hold a candle to the experience of being there as events unfold, the session between lunch and tea provided us with the unarguable proof. It was spine-tingling.
I should add that neither iMoo nor I are above the petty prejudices that sustain contests such as the Ashes. It peeves me intensely when the Pommie supporters sing Jerusalem, it irks me that their outfits are blinding Persil white compared to our cream, and don’t get me started on the pukka way that GP Swann buttons his shirt to the top and folds his collar up when he bowls (tosser!)… which is to say, we were in the thick of it as, hungering for payback after too many recent failures, the crowd went berko.
Six wickets fell in rapid succession as Johnson, with his tatts and pimp’s ’tache, rediscovered his mojo.
Make no mistake, this was theatre in the raw.
The English were routed, so the Fourex, at $7.20 for a plastic mug, might have been Veuve Clicquot and the chips pommes frites as we lustily hoed into them after the carnage.
Of course it’s silly, juvenile even – but sport can lift your spirits like nothing else.
An editorial deadline means that what has happened at the WACA is still in the future, but, as they say in the classics, cricket was the winner on that glorious arvo in Brizzy.