The last time in 1987

The Boxing Day test match against New Zealand has just concluded with a resounding victory to Australia. Throughout the game, there was a lot of commentary about how New Zealand hadn’t played a Test in Melbourne since 1987. That was a famous match, and all the talk reminded me that I was there.

Actually, I was only there for the last hour or two. I may have attended a day earlier in the match – I don’t remember, but what I do remember is getting off work early in the city and walking down to the MCG on the last day to catch the exciting conclusion.

It’s a famous match because New Zealand was heading for what appeared a certain victory when the last two Australian batsmen came to the crease – Mike Whitney and Craig McDermott. They were up against Richard Hadlee at the peak of his powers. He took ten wickets in this match, and a whole pile more through the series – and I still reckon he’s one of the best five quick bowlers I’ve ever seen (Dennis Lillee and Wasim Akram head that list).

I was working at NAB at the time and probably following the match in the office. This was a tough era to be an Australian cricket fan, probably our lowest ever ebb. A bunch of champions had retired, a rebel tour to South Africa decimated our cricketing depth, and the very reluctant captain in Allan Border had taken over from a tearful Kim Hughes. At best, the team was competitive, though it was building (and it did win the World Cup in a shock result).

I got down to the ‘G with the team about eight down and staring down the barrel. The doors had been flung open, and the crowd had swelled with people like me dropping in on the way home from the office.

I think I was by myself – funny the things you forget, and the things you remember. I do recall how gripping a contest it was when the ninth wicket fell, and it looked odds on that the Kiwis would win.

The game went on, though. In my memory, it was about 30 minutes of steadfast defence. With every ball, you held your breath. Each ball survived meant you could breathe again. There was a big appeal at one stage, LBW against McDermott. Had there been DRS those days he might have ended up out. The umpire ruled not out though, and the game went on.

Finally, it came to the last over, Richard Hadlee bowling to Mike Whitney. Again and again, Hadlee probed, again and again, Whitney defended. With every ball survived the crowd would clap. Then came the last bowl – and Whitney prodded the ball back down the pitch, and raised his arms.

It’s a famous moment; a famous image. I remember the feeling, as if we’d won. We don’t normally like to celebrate draws, it’s un-Australian, but this time it felt pretty ripe because the team had managed it against the odds.

For me, in the crowd, it was a great day to finish a working day.

Sadly, a few years later, I rocked up after work on a similar occasion against England and watched as the much unheralded Dean Headley swept through an Australian side searching for victory. I reckon I saw the last four wickets fall, and the loss that resulted. That was a much different feeling – though it was a much different side. By then we were top of the heap. We lost that match but won that series, and most series after for the next 15 years.

This year, 30 years on, we flogged ’em.

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