Memories of Melbourne
The new book Ground Rules contains in-depth chapters on the great cricket grounds of the world. In this exclusive excerpt Steve Waugh looks at Melbourne, the home of the Boxing Day Test:
Steve Waugh prepares for his last Test at the MCG, 18 years after making his debut here
© Getty Images
I had my first live experience of the Melbourne Cricket Ground when I played in an Under-19 Test against Sri Lanka there in 1983-84. Our team also included my brother Mark and Mark Taylor. For me, this was a seriously unbelievable experience. The arena was so massive, I couldn't help thinking, over and over, how big is this ground. That is the first thing that strikes you when you walk out on to the playing surface - the enormity of the ground and the stands. The Great Southern Stand was still eight years away, but the big stands that were there then were so all-encompassing. I tried to soak it all in, and when I was out there making a few runs I kept thinking ... maybe one day I will be able to do this in a Test.
Less than two years later and I was walking out there to bat on the first day of a Test. The ground seemed even bigger, and I was nervous as any cricketer has ever been. It was surreal, as if it was someone else walking out there. Suddenly, now that I was a player rather than an observer, I wasn't used to big crowds at all - the noise, the colour, the intensity. I did not know where I was going to score a run. And that was all I wanted ... one run. When it came, through the covers off Kapil Dev, I whispered to myself, "Bewdy, they can't take that away from me. At least, I haven't made a duck in my first Test."
That is how I was thinking. With the big crowd in, the big stands, great bowlers operating, a posse of experienced Test players - Gavaskar and Vengsarkar and Amarnath and Shastri and Kirmani and Kapil Dev - around the bat, I felt completely out of place.
In the years since, I have come to the view that the MCG needs a big crowd to bring it to life. I can only imagine what it would have been like for the 1956 Olympics - how I would have liked to be a spectator when Australia's Betty Cuthbert won her three gold medals in the sprints, or when the great Russian Vladimir Kuts broke the heart of Britain's Gordon Pirie in the 5000 and 10,000 metres.
The fanaticism of the Melbourne sports fan is phenomenal, whether it be cricket, Australian football, tennis, Formula One, just about any sport. This was never better reflected than in the Boxing Day Test of 1982-83, when Australia went to stumps on day four needing another 37 to win, with the game's last partnership, Allan Border and Jeff Thomson, at the wicket. AB and Thommo had already added 37. The Test might have been over in one ball on the fifth morning, but an estimated 18,000 people turned up to see the score move to within a boundary of an amazing Australian victory. Then Thommo edged Ian Botham to Chris Tavare at second slip, who dropped the chance, but it spooned up behind him for first slip Geoff Miller to complete the dismissal. England by three runs.
Melbourne sports fans are passionate, devoted and very parochial. They can also be rough on those they are not keen on. The old Bay 13, which was located behind the slip cordon for a right-handed bat at the southern end of the ground, used to be a nightmare place for opposition fieldsmen. I have seen players from some countries who were very reluctant to go down there. Yet these same rough diamonds beyond the boundary were the lot who, to everyone's great amusement, mimicked Merv Hughes's stretches while the big man prepared for another bowling spell during the 1988-89 World Series Cup one-dayers.
It was down that end of the ground that same season that I took my best catch in international cricket. During a day-nighter, West Indies were six down and needed 27 to win from the final three overs. Roger Harper swung at Craig McDermott and lofted the ball high back over the bowler's head. I spun around and sprinted, fast as I could, and managed to haul it in before running behind the sightscreen. We eventually won by eight runs.
I will always associate the MCG with the Boxing Day Test, and the Christmas celebrations with family and team-mates. I will also think of Bruce Reid, a superb fast bowler who was very unlucky with injury, twice demolishing opponents there - 13 for 148 against England in 1990-91, 12 for 126 against India 12 months later. And two bowling spells by Warney - his 7 for 53 on the last day of the second Test against West Indies in 1992-93, and his hat-trick there against the Poms.
That win against the Windies was a big victory for us, because for more than a decade Australian teams had found it so hard to counter them at the MCG. I know that in the late 1980s and early '90s the pitch was a bit up and down, which made it very difficult to score against their fast bowlers. For the Boxing Day Test in 1988-89, there were actual corrugations in the wicket. After stumps on the fourth day, Patterson pushed into our dressing-room to announce that he was literally going to murder us the following day.
I must take some responsibility for this. Revved up by the fact that I had already taken four wickets in the innings, I bounced Patterson (who batted No. 11) a few times and then, next over, when he looked around to square leg where I was fielding, I waved to him. Merv Hughes was sledging him as well, and then Allan Border got involved. After play, Patterson said to AB, "I'm going to come out tomorrow and I'm going to kill you." That was something to look forward to, and he was good as his word, bowling one of the quickest spells we had ever seen. We lost that Test, but won the next in Sydney and had the better of a draw in the fifth, in Adelaide. Maybe a little of the aura the Windies possessed had been broken.
There is also a special leatherbound edition of Ground Rules
As hard as it was to break that hold they had over us - and we didn't do it completely until 1995 - it was an easier process than would be the task of anyone trying to diminish the tradition and status in world cricket that both the Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Grounds possess.
Great history, great traditions, great places to play cricket. The SCG and the MCG are very different grounds, but in this they are as one. Occasionally in recent years, just for a moment - because they have been part of my life for so long and part of cricket for so much longer - I might have taken them for granted. We never should.
Ground Rules, which also includes chapters by Sourav Ganguly, Andy Flower, Kumar Sangakkara and Christopher Martin-Jenkins, is published by Dakini Books. To order a copy click here.
SPECIAL OFFER There is also a limited number of leatherbound copies available, signed by Steve Waugh. Click here for details.