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Ashes Moments- January 2003: Steve Waugh’s Sydney Century

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The scorebook would make for unremarkable reading given that this particular box contains neither of cricket’s contrasting exclamation marks: 6 or W. But, the final over at the SCG on Friday January 3, 2003 was astonishing. I know precisely where I was, and am sure that many of you do too.

We’re up at Barmera with friends from Kimba, and filled the windless, stretching days with golf and barbeques. Gentle, unhurried rhythms. Late afternoons, we’d sit on the lawns slopping away from our hotel rooms, and gaze out across our drinks and Lake Bonney. Up early for a swim before eighteen holes, the brisk pool’s a reminder that save for a mighty river, this is a desert.

The fifth Ashes Test was a transition with neither Warne nor McGrath playing due to injury. If relief from longitudinal torment comes before hope, then, for England, a jackboot might’ve been lifted off their writhing throat.

Paul, Klingy and I made our way round Waikerie’s lush layout, and now it almost seems unknowable that despite having mobile phones mine permitted merely texts and calls. As we zigzagged the fairways and beyond, we’d no idea of the cricket score, and were only updated by Skull and company as we motored back up the Sturt Highway to our wives and families, poolside and relishing the blonde warmth.

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The motel bar advertised a happy hour, so Klingy and I moseyed in for a post-golf beer, and to catch the last few overs. Stephen Waugh, who’d given so much for so many years, but was nearing the conclusion of his tenacious, decorated career, had a century within unexpected grasp.

All summer, he’d suffered an indefensible lack of runs, and the near-shouting for his head was intensifying. During this session, questions were being asked of him by the visitors, and after a lifetime in the dungeon, England’s skipper, Nasser Hussain, sensed an opening. Waugh later suggested that these challenges, “galvanised my spirit.”

In this Test, he’d equalled AB’s record of 156 matches in the baggy green, and had also gone past 10,000 runs. His career stretched back almost mythologically: he’d seen players pass through this English side like it were Oxford Circus tube station.

With the owner of the greatest sporting nickname courtesy of the Warwickshire CCC souvenir shop, Ashley “The King of Spain” Giles, also out wounded, Richard Dawson bowled the day’s last over. He’d play seven Tests for his country, and take eleven wickets.

Such was their innocuity, the Australian captain patted the first three balls back down the pitch.

In this nation, cricket telecasting is more dissected than parliamentary decisions. We largely choose the family and friends we invite into our living rooms, but have no control over commentary teams. At this point, with his sense of drama and boyish excitement, Bill is handed the microphone. As it’s been for decades, his exhilaration becomes ours.

Dawson’s fourth ball is in the slot, and Waugh drives it for three. There’s a sense of rumbling, rapidly-gathering occasion.

Hussain attempts to then assemble doubt in the batsmen, with elongated brooding over his field placings. It’s an obvious stratagem, but for his ceaselessly down-trodden troops, a late wicket could yield both actual and symbolic value.

BBQ area

An unparalleled master of mental combat, Waugh responds by gesturing for Gilchrist to join him mid-pitch. All at the SCG in the Brewongle and those watching elsewhere know this is confected theatre, but we don’t care.

“It’s getting interesting, Michael,” Klingy proposes, “He might get his ton. Do ya want another beer?”

The TV screen is both irresistible and repellent. I take a sip. The January sun steams in across the glittering lake.

Finally, our wicketkeeper, whose ball-striking was already in robust evidence, took guard. He records a single off the penultimate fig, but could’ve run two. This would’ve given him fifty, however he might’ve attracted a continental condemnation of Harold Larwood proportions. Upon England’s return in four years, Gilly would secure a folkloric place with his WACA explosives.

By the day’s ultimate delivery, this over has endured for nearly ten minutes. My father-in-law, ever alert to a broader narrative, still insists the bowler was under instruction to serve up something hittable. Waugh is on 98. The ball is wide, and outside off-stump. He slashes it to ground, and it punches towards cover.

The Kookaburra sped through the infield. It broke to the left of screen.

Bill cried, “There it is!”

Occasionally, sport attains transcendentalism, and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said of this philosophy, it allows us to locate, “an original relation to the universe.” I love these moments; these blissful intervals when we’re at the happy mercy of others; these strangers we know intimately, and upon whom our holiday joys can depend.

In the bar, by Lake Bonney, in the fading Friday sunlight, back closer to the beginning of this millennium, we brushed away a few hot tears.

Klingy spoke, “I’m a bit emotional.”

With broken words, I gasped. “Yeah. Me too.”

Stephen Waugh had just registered his 29th century, and had equalled the Don. For the immediate future, he’d remain the Australian captain.

We walked to our rooms. We’d had an afternoon.

SW AG

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Six sixes

BB

Nuriootpa High School 1981- Jock McGregor 

Saturday morning, underage cricket. Barossa Valley. Fruit-heavy vines enclose the ground, vintage approaches. Teenage conversations.

“Do you think REO Speedwagon are better than Adam and the Ants?”

“Pass me that Blankety Blanks lemonade.”

“EH Holdens beat XP Fords? Get real!”

Most of us were boys. But Jock was a fully formed man. His batting power was laughably brutal, and as a mate’s dad used to say, “He had an eye like a stinkin’ fish.”

Back then, footy goal posts were permanent fixtures. We watched as Jock punished the looping ball. We watched, slack-jawed. It sped straight through the goals at three-quarter-post height. Six runs and six points! We kept watching. Zooming above the gnarled rows of Shiraz vines, the ball was still climbing. 

Gabba 2005- Brett Lee 

Weet-bix devourer, and Australia’s Funniest Home Videos devotee, Brett Lee was a better batsman than guitarist. He belted West Indian Daren Powell’s delivery above and beyond the Northern Stand, and with near tragicomedy. It exploded on impact close to another blonde Australian paceman. And his wife and young daughter.

“I felt like the mayor of Hiroshima. Six inches either way and the ball would have caused some real damage,” a relieved Carl Rackemann said of the bombardment.

Kapunda High School 1979 until 1983- Paul McCarthy

In my youth of Skyhooks and sausage rolls, there were teachers versus students matches. We loved them. These were played in wholesome spirit, although, as ridiculous, rash lads, some competed like fuming dogs.

Once in the footy my friend Crackshot perfectly tackled a staff member, trapping the Lyrebird to him. The teacher finally loosened an arm, and to his eternal shuddering horror, and our eternal amusement, promptly jabbed Crackshot on the chin. Did we just see that? I don’t think he bit off part of his ear though.

In every cricket match history teacher, and champion golfer, Paul McCarthy provided the highpoint. Batting at the Gundry’s Hill end, the occasion would arrive, and he’d flick it off middle stump, over the spotty fielders, over the boundary, over the school fence, over West Terrace, over the dusty footpath, over a neighbour’s front yard, and onto the roof of her white-washed cottage. Thud. A depth charge in a submarine movie. Everyone waited for it. Macca always delivered.

WACA 2006- Adam Gilchrist

We were at Adelaide’s Highway Inn for Gilly’s pyrotechnics.

It had been among the last workingman’s pubs. On Fridays a misshapen gent haunted the front bar, peddling greasy handfuls of cubed cheese and sliced mettwurst. As such I suspect it was often a real gastro pub. It sold butcher glasses (200ml) of port, but no craft ales. Around six they’d pay a woman to dance through the smoky fug, to wrong music. She would forget to wear her shirt.

Then the Highway was gentrified. The cheese and metty man was gone. Now you could buy

Spring garden riccioli (v) $22 w Brussels sprouts, radicchio, peas and rye crumbs.

Gilchrist launched four sixes in that Ashes knock. Was it so few? Bludgeoning 24 off a Monty over, each shot crackled with sharp raucousness. Aural affects often characterise sport. Gilly sounded like he was right in your lounge room, cracking a whip.

During that beer garden afternoon, I’m sure there was a distant whiff of crumbly cheddar and Linke’s mettwurst

Wudinna 1990- Gary Fitzgerald 

When bowling, my approach to the wicket was utterly unlike Michael Holding. Less whispering death, more three-legged race. Kyancutta’s batsmen could hit it hard, but Fitzy could hit it hardest. He went after me one February afternoon.

Instantly, the ball was one hundred feet high. With the perpetual hopefulness of all bowlers, I thought he’d skied it. Catch, I thought. In a split second I knew. I was wrong.

Fitzy clubbed it like an Adam Scott 9 iron, but unbearably long. It somehow evaded the Commodores cowering in the shade of the distant gym. That Kookaburra travelled further than Yorkshire men go on holiday.

After bouncing ferociously on the rubble the ball returned, but needing cranio-facial surgery. Every batsman tries to smack me. With the last delivery of the innings, I take my seventh wicket. For 74! And win a slab of Southwark! We lose.

WACA 1997- Mark Waugh 

“Along with golf, it’s probably my favourite pastime and cricket gets in the way a bit,” Mark Waugh once said. Our most elegant punter is not Punter, but Junior.

His celebrated strike, off Daniel Vittori, is uncomplicated grace. There is no hyperbole: no running, no leaping, and no punching the air (or Joe Root’s chin). Plainly, the younger Waugh found more delight in Super Impose winning the 1992 Cox Plate at 25/1.

Of course he was batting with older brother and captain Stephen. After Mark’s soaring stroke their demeanour remains uninterested. It suggests an unhurried single to extra cover.

Four stories up on the Lillee-Marsh grandstand roof, the ball clatters like hail on a shed, and, without a yak, is irretrievable. Our coda to that shot is the mid-pitch exchange

Stephen: Fair swipe.

Mark: Yep.

Stephen: Now pull your head in.

Mark: Are you kidding? You jealous?

Stephen: Nup. Who held the Bankstown Pizzeria Space Invaders record?

Mark: Yeah, yeah.

Stephen: Randwick quaddie?

Mark: Nup.

Stephen: Salad or veg with tonight’s steak?

Mark: Veg.

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