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Siddhartha Vaidyanathan at the WACA
January 16, 2008
A light-hearted cheer went up near the Prindville Stand around six in the evening. Umpire Billy Bowden turned down a loud appeal from Mitchell Johnson, when he yorked Rahul Dravid, and a small section of the crowd responded with, "We want Bucknor, we want Bucknor". It was one of the few noises made on a rather quiet day, one where a genteel wave swept across the WACA.
It's been a tumultuous week but the events of the first day - for most of it at least - were disconcertingly slow. The anti-climax surrounding the pitch didn't help but you would still expect some noise, at least from the grass banks. Things picked up towards the evening, especially with Australia fighting back with wickets, and a few spectators were even warned. One cheekily held a banner that read, "No more monkey abuses" and was promptly told to pack it in. Another tried his best to stir up the crowd but was led out of the ground when he began to swear.
A crowd of about 16,000 watched the first day's play. It's worthwhile pointing out what Wisden had to say about the very first Test in Perth, back in December 1970. "It was perfectly organised, and nearly 85,000 spectators saw it. That number was nearly twice that at Brisbane, and gate receipts in the region of £50,000 were almost three times as large." Thirty seven years since and the atmosphere seems to have diminished.
The Australian cricketers behaved like schoolboys sitting on the front bench. The ferociously quick Shaun Tait actually apologised to Sachin Tendulkar after appealing for a caught-behind decision. No-one else appealed since it had rapped his forearm. There was soon another appeal against Tendulkar, a really close shout from Andrew Symonds, but the reactions were a sight for the times: Symonds cursed himself, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke turned around to chat about it, and Ricky Ponting let out a gentle apologetic kick.
And if the atmosphere got heated at all, there was the quiz show to divert the attention. Through the day, every ten minutes or so, a question would be asked over the public announcement system, urging spectators to send in their responses. Just as Brett Lee seemed to be setting up Tendulkar in a fine spell, we were asked, 'Which Australian fielder has the most number of catches?' Talk of enjoying a good contest.
It was a fine day for cricket: hot, bright and pleasantly windy. Justin Langer was out there first thing in the morning and subconsciously started to step towards the middle of the pitch, tempted to indulge in some shadow practice. Soon he realised he was in his leather boots, not spikes, and didn't need to practice at all. "The umpire looked up at me in a funny way and I thought, 'This is not your stage any more'. I then just watched Ricky Ponting go through the motions."
Half an hour before the toss Langer was in the thick of the action, presenting Chris Rogers with his baggy green cap. It's been more than a year since he retired but Australia's next crop of openers isn't allowing us to forget his style: Phil Jaques turned into a like-for-like replacement and Rogers, in Adam Gilchrist's words, isn't attractive but effective.
Kerry O'Keeffe, the former Australian legspinner who regaled the press and corporate guests during lunch, felt Rogers had shown how colour-blindness wasn't an impediment to Test cricket. He also reminded everyone of how John Rogers, Chris' dad, played a few games for New South Wales. "There's Gilchrist from New South Wales and now Rogers," he said with the distinctive laugh that's thrilled radio audiences across the country. Wonder what O'Keefe thought of Clarke's latest crew cut, in light of his recent comments about NSW players being given a bottle of hydrogen peroxide along with their state caps.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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