Would you believe that it’s the 40th anniversary of the Melbourne Centenary test? Makes me feel old, because I was there.
I went with my best mate at the time, Peter Woody, and his father. I remember it was a greatly anticipated event, and as it turned out an absolute cracker of a contest that somehow exactly replicated the original result of that first test 100 years before – Australia by 45 runs.
I was there the day that David Hookes hit Tony Greig for 5 consecutive boundaries. That was a thrill that rippled through the crowd. Australians loved to hate Tony Greig, and Hookes was a great white hope of Australian cricket, tall and blonde haired, good looks and swagger. Later Hookes was to leave his mark in other ways – his test career never took off – but he was a fine broadcaster and better coach. He died tragically, and 10-12 years later Greig – after a stellar career in the Channel 9 commentary box – succumbed to cancer.
All of that was a destiny yet to unfold on that day, and anything was yet possible. After his 5 boundaries, Hookes made a quick-fire 50 and then went out. I remember then the century that Rod Marsh put together after that which led Australia to a good lead going into the last innings. And Rick McCosker, the tall NSW opening batsman who’d had his jaw broken in the first innings coming out to bat with Marsh with his head bound – this in a time before helmets.
If I wasn’t at the match I was watching it on TV. I have a sense, though no real memory, of attending another day of the match with my grandfather. I seem to recall Derek Randall batting and Max Walker and my favourite player at the time, and for years to come, Dennis Lillee. That last innings saw a great century by Randall, a twitchy, eccentric Pom who also happened to be a great cover fieldsman. I remember Walker rumbling in and his ungainly action at the crease, all arms and legs, but very effective (he too is gone, as is Gary Gilmour from that side). Dennis was the star though.
I’ve never seen a craftier fast bowler than Dennis. He may well be the best fast bowler I’ve seen, though there are some ripping contenders. He took 12 wickets in that match, 6 in each innings. By the end, he had bowled himself into the ground as England mounted a challenge, snuffed out in the end with DK taking the last wicket of the match.
It was a great match. I feel lucky to have witnessed it, but it feels now like one of those memories like old men have: I saw Bradman play, or Coleman, I was there the day…and so on. Funny how it is that the things you do in later days take on an antique lustre. I was there and it was in colour and the crowd oohed and aahed about me, but now it’s a moment, it’s history.