2

This exquisite, unrepeatable moment

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Driving Alex and his mates to Adelaide Oval last Sunday I’m reminded of the final line from 1986’s coming-of-age film, Stand by Me, in which the narrator ponders his distant childhood with affection and melancholy:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

We’re heading to see Glenelg contest its first SANFL final since these boys were toddlers. I’m keen for the Tigers to secure a spot in the grand final, but by sunset I’ll have learnt, all over again, that at best, football should only be a happy distraction.

It’s an archetypal early spring day: fluctuating between encouraging sun, blustery breeze, and quick showers. On our way to Hindley Street the car radio’s on. As it better matches where these boys are at I’ve changed stations from Triple J to commercial pop music. The songs seem immediate and disposable, but my passengers are more interested in rapid chat about teachers; food both healthy and not; exotic classmates; a recent school camp in the Adelaide Hills.

tigers
We see the fourth quarter of the Norwood and Crows match. Despite a spirited finish by the Redlegs, the tricolour interlopers advance to the preliminary final. Sitting in front of the Sir Edwin Smith Stand, of course the boys spear straight down to the fence, so they can get as close as possible to the action, although for most of the afternoon they enthusiastically ignore the footy.

They eat. They chat. They laugh. They do whole mobs of stuff except watch the action.

For them footy is mere situational context; Aristotelian theatre of minor consequence; a fuzzy backdrop to their endless, summery banter.

MCG
Glenelg and Port is pulsating. The Magpies are taller, bigger and dominate aerially, but the Bays appear to quicken as the shadows lengthen. The boys’ chat continues.

“Our grade five camp had way better food! Don’t you think Ty?”

“I met Steve Smith at the Cricket Warehouse when I was six. Mum let me have the day off school.”

“Jacob, are you going to do karate next year?”

I love the easy egalitarianism among them. Each takes his turn, enjoys his moments in the sun, is allowed his voice. There’s no clear pecking order or obvious Alpha male. There’s esprit de corps.

It’s gladdening.

At half time they dash behind the stand onto the lawns for some kick-to-kick while I watch their black backpacks, bursting with snacks as we arrived, and now mostly empty like deflated tyres.

boof
Stretching my legs too I wander down to the ornamental grass. There’s an irresistible puddle. The boys are bunched by the statue of Boof Lehmann while Alex skims his footy through the water and at them, again and again while they squirm and shriek. However, they’re wet and it’s fresh so I ask them to stop. They do. Maybe I should’ve left them to it. Boof is spared further drenching.

In the gathering gloom (literal and metaphorical; tending towards pathetic fallacy) Port win by four points over a fast-finishing Glenelg. The boys exclaim their vague despair, but it’s vaporised before we exit the Southern Plaza and their natural natter then pings about, as it should. We cross the footbridge.

With my headlights cutting through the murk I again steer along Anzac Highway and think of Stand by Me. Alex and these mates will have next year in their snug, neighbourhood primary school, and then move on. They’ll likely attend different high schools. Maybe their bond will endure, maybe not.

But, for the moment, this exquisite, unrepeatable moment, Alex and his eleven-year-old friends, bouncing between childhood and adolescence, are deep in the greatest of simple gifts: each other.

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2

Adelaide Oval in the Eighties: Rodney Hogg, Adidas Romes and Mondo Rock

Davo, Rocket, Stephen, Trish, obscured Kapunda youth likely Kate, Trish and your correspondent

I remember the sweet, coconut aroma of tanning oil. It made us glisten like boxers or glamorous full-forwards and accelerated our baked so we were flapping roast chooks on the sloping grass. Applied upon arrival to our skinny selves it was a blessing if we forgot to re-drench our arms and backs during the second innings. Best let the sun inflict its damage without encouragement. Today, detecting its distinctive smell I’m instantly at Adelaide Oval during the summers of my youth.

With headlights peering into the warm dark our convoy of HQ’s and 180B’s would make its way about Kapunda’s streets and then steer south to Gawler. We’d load eskies and bags of food and a couple of our Mums’ blankets onto the train carriage ready for the roughly hour-long ride.

I recall Rocket and Chrisso and Woodsy and Nick and Claire and Trish and Crackshot and Lukey and Kate and Gert and Stephen and Jamie and Tommy and Boogly and Davo and Bobby and Brendan.

old oval

On the red hen sliding past Womma station there’d be a sudden fizz as someone like Davo opened a Southwark stubby, while secretly hoping the guard wouldn’t appear. Meanwhile, our parents would yawn and empty some cereal into their bowls.

There was always a queue, but at 8am we’d burst into the ground, and rush the open space on the south-eastern corner’s hill. Here the blankets became important as they were thrown out like magic carpets and we claimed our territory half-way up the mound.

Although the world wobbled on a different axis back then I was always astonished when at precisely 8.05am I’d hear the first industrial whistle from under the scoreboard. Accompanied by a satisfied roar, it was the spear being pulled from breakfast’s first empty keg. Across the day these would punctuate the air as a gassy summery score.

scoreboard

Many wore those blue shearers’ singlets which were an oddly ironic uniform, even among those of us who’d never wrestled a sheep. Our hats were barely functional rather than chic. Most didn’t bother. Our hair was unfashionable in the cruel way that only teenaged hair can be. The perms could be especially devastating, and high school yearbooks confirm these vicious facts. There were double-plugger rubber thongs and Adidas Romes and youthful enthusiasms.

I’d see a neat sign on the back fence declaring that under its small tarp was the “Duck Pond.” Pleasingly, I never knew the etymology for this. Nor did I bother for some mysteries are best unsolved. The equivalent of permanent residents at a country caravan park, this was a comforting citizenry whose annual presence was as welcoming as the first sighting of a beer snake being paraded about the crowd as if it had been transported from an Asian street festival.

beer snake

There was an innocent charm in the catering. I suspect the total combined menu was pies, pasties, chips and hot dogs. I fear that sausage rolls were a culinary omission, and don’t think chicken salt had yet been discovered in the pans of Adelaide’s barren north. Tacos or stir fry? Scarcely conceived.

The only vaguely healthy option was fruit although this was largely confined to a whole watermelon, injected with Smirnoff the night before, behind someone’s Dad’s shed.

I recall that Brendan always smuggled in drink. At the forefront of innovation for clandestine imbibing were his bar-noculars, which appeared to security guards, parents and the constabulary as a set of binoculars doubtless used by a cricket tragic. Happily, these were optically useless but alcoholically tremendous as each black tube held a neat quantity of neat spirit. It was perhaps the sole technological marvel of that decade.

At 9.30 the teams appeared on the heritage scoreboard. Which bustling Rodney would open the bowling: Hogg or McCurdy? Would Roo Yardley deliver some offies with his high, tidy action? Which Kim Hughes would turn up? The swashbuckler or the drunkenly swinging? Surely David Hookes would finally get a run on his home ground?

As part of their sports science-free warm-up the players might slow jog a lap, and I recall the crowd commentary on IVA Richards. “Check out the shoulders on him! He looks like a middle-weight!” And, I can still see Clive Lloyd, all hunch-backed and huge, laconic and cat-lazy.

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The late Bruce “Roo” Yardley

Back then 220 was a handy score, and the Windies and England often had us covered. Lillee and Thomson and Marsh were near the end while AB was bracing himself for the torrid decade ahead. I also remember Sod O’Donnell and Henry Lawson and Kepler.

After the match we’d play cricket in the Creswell Gardens or head to the SA-FM Sky Show by the Torrens or maybe take refuge in the Cathedral Hotel or venture down to Glenelg for a swim.

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Your correspondent and Trish about to line dance in the Creswell Gardens

On the train, we’d rattle homewards and then pile into our cars with their Pioneer cassette decks and Mondo Rock blasting through the open windows into the still dark. We were worriless for tomorrow was Monday and the Australia Day long weekend. School and uni were weeks away.

Our world was still wonderfully small, and for a few days every summer Adelaide Oval was at its centre.

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2

Round 7- Adelaide v Carlton: Come, Come Mr Bond

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We have radio wars in our car when the boys, wife and I travel together, and I’m annihilated, acoustically.

Despite my best attempts to provide a robust musical education, as the Subaru backs out of the garage, voices from the back seat holler, “Mum, can you put it on NOVA?”

Or, “Change it over to MIX.”

To which I respond, “What do you say?”

From behind me a reluctant, “Please” then chirps across.

MIX self-describes as, “Adelaide’s widest variety of music” but if there’s any truth in radio station slogans it’d be, “Adelaide’s widest variety of Pink.”

Saturday night viewing is providing similar conflict, at least for me. The footy is winning the battle, but only just as 9 GEM is showing all the Bond films, having started a month ago with Dr No which, given our youngest’s current oppositional defiance, is a domestic theme.

However in a rare nocturnal excursion, for the first time this season, I found myself on the bottom deck of the Chappell Stand, taking in the Crows and Blues. To alleviate any clash concerns The Blues are wearing their John Howard-inspired gray guernseys. Really? You’d find greater similarity in the vocal stylings of Taylor Swift and Taylor Walker.

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It’s a glorious autumnal evening by the mighty River Torrens – warm, still and clear. Both sides are missing many of their big names and given how many have moved between these clubs, out on the turf it must be like the first hour of a school reunion, you know, before the Brandivino works its liquid magic.

Carlton find space early and vital big rooster Kreuzer snaps to give the Blues their first, and only lead for the encounter. Adelaide then settles and slots the subsequent six with alliterative forwards Josh Jenkins and Mitch McGovern each scoring an appropriate two goals.

On TVs across the ‘burbs Thunderball is also away and SPECTRE has stolen some NATO bombs, and is threatening to destroy a US or UK city, later revealed as Miami which seems a little unambitious, given they’re working in the Bahamas. Why not be lofty in your aims and lob one at Luton, although, to be fair, it’d be difficult to tell.

In his first match against his former mob B. Gibbs (Bryce, not Barry) has continued his silky form and is accumulating possessions across the ground like MI6’s finest collects casino chips. During the break I get out my Texas Instruments calculator and start punching in cricket scores to see how far up the table the Crows will be by midnight. This arrogance guarantees the Blues (Grays) fightback is on.

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Skill execution errors, even from diminutive half-back assassin Rory Laird means the visitors enjoy a dominant quarter with some clever work from Levi Casboult whose hulking presence could be handy in Thunderball as things get desperate in the Aston Martin. The game is poised at the half and I get approval from our bank to undertake some Goldfinger action of my own: I buy a beer and some hot chips.

Any lingering tension quickly evaporates into the May sky as Adelaide registers a pair of majors in the opening minutes. Eddie Betts is involved, but his form and his season are simmering, not Bond-movie-speedboat-explosions, just yet. Footy itself has been strangely subdued thus far in 2018.

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Mitch McGovern doesn’t so much mark the Sherrin as pluck it from atop the pack in a way that startles everyone. He elevates himself onto Liam Jones’ shoulders and completes the catch as if Q had lent him the famous jetpack. It provides some frisson on a night when the narrative arc is as predictable as a commercial radio playlist (Up next we’ve got some Captain Beefheart).

Cam Ellis-Yolmen continues his steady progress and is stringing together games in his much-interrupted career which began way back in 2011, when you could sneak your track-suited self into a Blockbuster and borrow Kung Fu Panda 2 for a fiver.

I admit it’s been a minor treat to see Carlton’s Cripps and Curnow in action. They’ll drive the Blues bus for the next decade, or half a dozen coaches, whichever comes first. Their win/ draw/ loss tally now reads:

007.

Despite another obligatory hamstring injury Adelaide moves confidently to the next instalment of the Showdown franchise next Saturday in the twilight.

There should be no televisual conflict with Casino Royale beginning just on the final siren. I best iron my new tracky-daks.

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7

NYE in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135

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I’m calling it.

My fellow lovers of confected cricket, we need a national conversation. I ask this plainly: why has the Zooper Dooper been banished? In case you’ve not heard, it’s been replaced by a chewing gum brand for the BBL wicket celebrations. Won’t someone think of the kiddies?

-Dad, it’s really hot here in Adelaide Oval’s Bay 135 for this important NYE fixture. Can we have a sugary iced treat?
-No, have a stick of chewing gum.
-But I’m dehydrated.
-Chew faster.

I’m also reminded of my favourite graffiti, seen on a condom-vending machine: This is the worst chewing gum I’ve ever tasted.

*

So, we’re underway in the traditional NYE 6.40pm time slot. Despite his early-tournament successes, former GWS Giant Alex Carey misses a straight one from Lalor. Shortly after fellow opener Weatherald also plays around one and travels back to the sheds.

Unlike Trump’s twitter-feed the Strikers are circumspect. When everyone’s favourite Colin, he of the tribe Ingram, comes out, all four batters have been non-right-handers. Thus far not a great evening for the sinistrophobics, and I wonder what’s the collective noun for left handers. A Hooksey, I decide.

Jono “Orson” Welles comes in, fresh from swiping a monstrous six at the SCG a night or two back, but he pops one to extra cover in a feeble dismissal which reminds me of PJ Keating’s description of John Hewson’s parliamentary performance: being flogged with a warm lettuce.

Lehmann the Younger contrasts with his dad who, despite his finesse, particularly against spin, always looked high-vis and Old Bushman Hotel front bar. With an ironic moustache upon his peculiar dial Jake is foppish and dandy; part Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, part Adam Ant, part Caddyshack gopher. Metrosexuality aside, he is dropped first ball and then twice more in collecting a useful twenty-odd. Brisbane’s inability to hold catches would prove to be a significant difference.

*

Of course, the BBL isn’t only a cricket contest. It’s an ethnomusicological event with the between balls stabs central to the entertainment, but the playlist is now tired. I suggest themed evenings.

Sinatra

In the games leading up to Christmas let’s have only Yuletide tunes by the Rat Pack. What could be better than acknowledging a Bradley Hogg wicket than with an immaculately-phrased grab from a Frank Sinatra song? After all, they’re from the same generation.

Imagine the excitement of the punters gushing into the Gabba knowing that play will be punctuated with excerpts from Ripper ’76. Going from Supernaut to Sherbet to Split Enz. And to complete the experience why not get Molly to do the ground announcing?

But let’s also go beyond the rock and pop staples, to broaden the auditory appeal.

-Dad is it true? Is tonight Miles Davis night at Bellerive?
-Yes, it is son.
-The second great quintet featuring Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter?
-Of course! How could the Melbourne Stars now not win?

MIles

*

Michael Neser bats with intelligent aggression in assembling forty, including a lusty blow which lands in an adjacent bay. Impressive Afghan youngster Rashid Khan arrives with mere deliveries remaining, hits a six (I’ll never use maximum: oops, too late), but then holes out in what is surely the most eventful two-ball innings conceivable.

In our final over Neser skies one, and a volcano of Heat fielders converge, but with home-town luck running nicely, its lands, splat, right in the crater.

As is now tradition with the Strikers batting first, they’re about thirty runs short.

*

Returning to the Eastern Stand as desultory half-time rituals take place across the turf our eldest asks:

-Dad, it’s hot, can we have a Buckethead?
-But these offer no protection. As hats they fail.
-Please!
-No. Every time one is worn, somewhere a koala gets an unpronounceable disease.

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*

Brisbane Heat has a menacing batting line-up: think Goodfellas with Kookaburra Kahunas, but tonight they’re the ones getting wacked. Within the opening over Brisbane loses a wicket.

Lynn in, carn Khan. Gorn! The Heat’s most exhilarating bat is dismissed for a Mr Blutarsky: Zero…point…zero to the quickish leggie who, three games in, has the competition spooked.

The violet sky then hosts fireworks from across the river/lake in Elder Park and the booms and bangs echo and shake the Gavin Wanganeen Stand, and I wonder if the batters notice these seismic blasts. When former Striker Alex Ross is bowled the scorecard reads as a distinctly Under 9’s-like 4/15.

It’s still light and there’s a chance the game could finish early. I hope not for Adelaide Oval’s fireworks during daylight would lack spectacle and pizzazz, like bringing out a brussel sprout birthday cake at a Macca’s party.

Curiously, Heat allrounder Ben Cutting is out cutting (caught at gully) in what must represent a major disappointment to his family. Still his is a bright innings while those about him fall meekly.

Jake Lehmann takes his second smart catch out by the rope to remove Brendon ‘Baz’ (I prefer Mungo) McCullum for an atypically sheepish tally.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province’s finest  strides out and playing the first ball Yasir Shah’s agonised leaping at the crease convinces me that he’s stepped on a piece of Lego.

Soon, it’s a numerically-attractive 9/90 and then all out. Tellingly, the Heat has not registered a single six. The Strikers head (sorry) to 2018 top of the table.

We enjoy the 1970’s disco funk medley and pyrotechnics and then drive carefully, west along Hindley Street.

alex poster

2

Round 20- Adelaide v Port: Barney 43

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I blame the shameless brewers of that most horrific muck West End Draught. Where were the dissenting voices at that fateful marketing meeting? Here we are, into the third decade of the state’s biggest football event and it’s still, somehow, called the Showdown, as determined by the fifteenth best beer manufacturer in Adelaide.

However, it’s also another example of American linguistic imperialism. If we were talking about Ole Miss and Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl then the word would work, but here in South Australia we should’ve gone with Dust Up, Yike, Blue, or my preference, Barney.

“We’re underway in Barney 17.” Or-

“There’s the siren. Adelaide has won a thriller in Barney 31!”

For the first time this millennium I’m on the Hill, just down from the world’s best scoreboard. We’re in a tidy quintet of chaps. There’s ferocious rain and wind and the sky is like an aubergine. The mud and slushy grass is tundra. Old mate behind us has on a Power scarf and is in shorts. My phone says it’s eight degrees. Jason pulls out his sunglasses, “Reckon I’ll need these soon.” We laugh, and Chris asks, “Did anyone bring the 50+?”

With a significant wind-assistance Adelaide traps the ball within their arc, and like an over-zealous debater, makes point after point after point before The Hoff collects his own kick and soccers cleverly. This, I’m delighted to report, would be the Power’s sole major until about ten minutes into the third quarter.

The Crows dominate across the ground and despite the conditions are clean and sure in disposing by hand and foot, which is a happy contrast to their dismal first half at the MCG last Sunday. Tex Walker appears impatient with his side’s inability to punish the Power so, both as captain and big forward, monsters his teal competitors in taking strong grabs and slotting telling goals.

Paddy Ryder has been in colossal form and various denizens of the Hill voice their anxieties about how Sam Jacobs might handle the Power star. They needn’t have worried for while their aerial and ruck duels are spirited, the boy from Ardrossan is also outrageous at ground level and kicks a great pack snap for a rooster who’d bang his red-combed head on the hen-house rafters.

Despite now missing his appendix Eddie Betts kicks some amazing goals, including one from his pocket just down in front of us. As the ball bent through, the heaving crowd about me leapt and there were ponchos and scarfs bouncing and flapping like a Latino dance party. The only deviation from the Happy Days script is when yet another goal-of-the-year contender is deemed by the evil umpire to have been touched by an evil Power player.

And what of Port? They’d appeared to be entirely unlike Port such is their pedestrian spectating. They seem disinterested, and must be waiting for The Choir Boys to reform. In the sheds at half-time only Robbie Gray has earnt his hot cup of Milo.

September looms and pleasingly Sloan finds plenty of it, and creates well. On the Hill, I spy a gent wearing a bespoke shirt featuring a picture of Rory’s blonde bonce with this accompanying prose-

Men want to tag him

Women want to shag him

The crowd is boisterous and enjoyable. I see lots of Crows fans standing with Power faithful, and the banter is lively. Not Disney channel, but not Tarantino either.

Suddenly, Charlie Cameron has it and he accelerates through the middle. It’s among our game’s most exhilarating sights, but while his pace is Lamborghini, his kicking is still often Holden Gemini.

Then Brad Ebert gets one, but unlike last Saturday against the Saints, it really is too late, and the Port supporters are shuffling towards the gates like an Alabama chain-gang. The Nissan Urvan will soon be pointed towards the Lefevre Peninsula, and I just hope that Uncle Ernie managed to fix the heater when he popped round yesterday.

Adelaide records its biggest winning margin against the INXS wailers, and after two decades now lead 22-21 in these most magnificent of contests, the Barney.

I must get back to the Hill again.

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4

Round 3 – Port Adelaide v Adelaide: A Moment

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In contrast to the previous torrid energy it was an uncontested mark with nothing in the way of opposition pressure, such as a spoil, or a sudden, secretive fist to the ribs.

Resulting from a David MacKay disposal it was an unhurried and simple catch; the kind associated with circle work at a country oval’s Tuesday night training, while inside the glowing clubrooms volunteers squeezed pies and pasties into warmers.

In January 2015, many were surprised that Patrick Dangerfield wasn’t appointed captain of the Crows. However, with a likely acceptance that their star player would soon wish to return to Moggs Creek, there was a quiet nodding of sage heads at the news that the role had been assigned to Taylor Walker.

A key component of the Phil Walsh legacy, he was about to demonstrate the wisdom of this decision.

Having taken the grab Walker wheeled around like a rattling cattle truck and assessed his options. He made a quick, barely perceptible scan of the landscape and decided.

Despite his Barry White/ Stephen Kernahan/ Dad joke baritone possibly suggesting otherwise Tex is an astute footballer who knows intimately the ecosystem of Adelaide Oval. With the Riverbank Stand towering taller than the MCG he knew that its surrounding microclimate, largely windless and advantageous on this autumnal evening, would assist his endeavours.

Watch now as into that rare real estate, sufficient space, he strides, not as a gut-busting midfielder, but as sizable, agile forward. Yes, he thinks, the time is right. The fifty-metre arc slides into distant view.

He balances and connects.

Despite the infantile and myopic scrabblings of the game’s rules committee and cash-drunk administrators and the carnivorous stadium vendors and the grasping media outlets and the petty trivia of the footy news-cycle, it’s these moments that’ll endure, that’ll guarantee the endless charisma of our game.

For lesser footballers, this spot on this long, lean ground might be no man’s land, an uncomfortable location where the options are crippling. Do I pass to a leading forward? Centre the ball? Aim for the top of the square? Handball to team mate on the burst? However, at this spot, seventy metres from goal there’s another possibility, but it’s only available for an elite few.

Tex Walker has a kicking technique that’s akin to a David Warner pull shot. Elegant in its simplicity, it marries outback power, untainted physics and Mick Jagger arrogance.

Now launched, the ball spins in a somewhat ungainly fashion, lurching through the air, slinging itself goalward with hungry velocity, rather than with the pure, fizzing momentum of, say, a Luke Hodge pass.

It travels through the roaring night and there’s now a sudden, muted quality to the stadium soundtrack that’s universal disbelief, Port Power horror and Adelaide Crow awe. The ball travels and travels and continues to travel. The pregnant seconds stretch onward, invested with everything we love about our mighty, Indigenous code.

Unlike a Malcolm Blight torpedo, it traces a low parabola across my screen as the crowd rushes past in the background, a smeared Monet. Walker’s drop-punt is at once sublime, but also gigantic. It taunts the line between possibility and impossibility.

It’s a goal.

As the Sherrin thuds into the turf midway between the goal line and the fence, leaving a crater in the Santa Ana, the clock announces that four minutes remain. Adelaide is three goals up.

Now, for all present at the ground, or at home or in a pub across Australia, or peering at a screen in midday London or Auckland or Albuquerque, all is denouement.

The necessarily curved narrative of football is concluded. We’ve had a moment.

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http://www.afc.com.au/video/2017-04-08/highlights-r3-tex-seals-it

 

2

December 5 2006 in Adelaide

SK

Beyond the family home Adelaide Oval is among my favourite places. Previously, it was uncluttered and open and big country-townish; more like the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury than a modern Australian stadium. Its boundless space and light have been replaced by vertiginous, curved shapes.

It’s the final day of Adelaide’s 2006 Ashes Test. Earlier, in the twilight of my teaching year, between tortuous enrichment activities, I’d watched the cricket in the staff room with some chaps, leaning in towards the screen, increasingly enticed by the grip of the action. Across our city in offices, shops and factories folks were getting itchy. Some mates and I volleyed texts at each other. Let’s get in there. Sorted.

I’d gone on Day 2. Like most I went home assured of an inconclusive match as Paul Collingwood accumulated a double century, while SK Warne struggled to 1/167, in an analysis cheerlessly reminiscent of his 1992 debut at the SCG. Then, after our first innings, the draw appeared more certain.

Indeed, the first four days suggested nothing else.

My most recent Test match experience had been September 2005 during the Ashes at The Oval. Down from Hertfordshire on a sodden Saturday we watched as rain repeatedly forced Langer and Hayden back to the sheds. The urn we’d held since 1989 was slipping away. The Barmy Army’s affectionate Shane Warne back catalogue offered musical entertainment when the sport provided little.

I love speculating about cricket’s fascinating relationships. The Waugh twins. The Chappell brothers, educated at the primary school our boys attend. And SK Warne and pretty much everyone he encountered on the pitch, and off. Like many of exceptional talent he was attracted to those with approximate, but ultimately different cricketing arsenal.

With his infuriating confidence and bird-poop splattered hair, Kevin Pieterson had a curious affinity with our leg-spinner. Shuffling forward and attempting a sweep, he swatted crudely at one outside leg stump. Lobbing in the rough, it stole behind his limb like a spy, and his feebly listing front pad, before spitting poisonously. In yet another wholly engrossing single-act production, the Kookaburra finally, fatally bit his off peg. It had spun several feet. It was the summer’s most compelling moment. KP had been schooled by his elder, and England was in trouble.

By now, each delivery from SK Warne was Vegas show business, but pure in its fizzing, hypnotic joy. And then Ashley Giles registered a duck to a monstrous delivery, while the supporters continued to splatter the ground, as if populating a Monet.

I contemplated my friend BJ O’Sullivan at home in Harrow. Barry identifies as Irish, and had significant quid invested in Australia triumphing in the series 5-0.  At mammoth odds, too, so he’s enthusiastic from afar. Incidentally, I once hosted a party in England, and among the guests were the same Barry of Norf London, Jimmy from Glasgow and Paddy from Ireland. True.

England is skittled in the penultimate session. Australia bowls cleverly in pairs with the blonde one taking 4/49; not spectacular in the seismic sweep of his career, but within this Test, and this series, it’s contextually huge.

From our members’ bench, we look eastwards towards the low, brown Adelaide Hills, noting how these continue the topographic theme established by the squat stands of this cricket ground. With school holidays, Christmas and a languid summer approaching, our mood is brash and buoyant.

The intrigues and narrative complexities gone, Australia is presented with a simple plotline: 167 from 36 overs. Langer clubs the first ball through mid-wicket for four. Vivid as ever, Bill Lawry bursts, “He goes bang. Four. It’s a one-day game.” As should happen the match is to be decided late, in its fifteenth session.

When Hayden goes it’s 2/33, and there’s some frisson. Questions murmur beneath the fig trees, and we bristle, momentarily. But, Michael Hussey is authoritative with 61no, and declares in an interview that he, “Bloody enjoyed it!”

oval

As the winning run is clipped through midwicket Bill yaps, “Look at the seagulls flying about. They’re saluting the Australians!” Beside a second Ashes victory it’s the locals’ ninth consecutive Adelaide Oval victory. The players rush down the steps next to us in a celebration as demonstrative as a football festivity.

The leaden sky of the previous London summer has vanished somewhat, and with lingering sentimentality, I feel at home, in this, my tiny, flat city, which clings to an inconsequential gulf. Transitions, especially the ones back to familiar places, can be angular and troublesome.

Later, among the eddying ecstasy, Damien Martyn, surely our most picturesque bat since Mark Waugh, clarified his feelings about his spot within this coterie. Richie Benaud had noted that at some stage everyone looks in the mirror, and on this most magnificent of Australian cricketing days, Martyn retires instantly, but with a stylish absence of extended tabloid explanation.

At this time my wife, some of my cricketing colleagues and many thousand others rushed towards Robbie Williams, pop singer of Stoke-On-Trent, who was to perform at Football Park. Curiously, Robbie was often referred to on BBC Radio 2 by Jonathan Ross as the “bug-eyed yelper.” Those at West Lakes enjoy the former Take That troubadour, and his most magnificent show.

Football Park is now abandoned and Adelaide Oval has been vividly reshaped. December 2006 was the last time I would see McGrath, Langer and SK Warne play Test cricket.

Nonetheless, December 5, 2006 was a really good Tuesday.