1982 March 8, 2008

A costly tackle

In a week where Andrew Symonds hit the headlines for shoulder-barging a streaker we look back at the Perth Test in November 1982, when a similar move almost cost a player his career

Police deal with the pitch invasion as Terry Alderman lies injured © WCM

The Ashes series of 1982-83 was the first in Australia in the aftermath of World Series Cricket, and came 18 months after the remarkable summer of 1981.

In Australia expectation was high, fuelled in part by a Channel Nine advertising campaign that centred on national stereotypes and was clearly aimed at inflaming patriotism. Adverts also honed in on the more brutal aspect of the game, with quick-fire shots of bouncers and snarling fast bowlers. What might be the norm now was very new back then.

The series started in Perth, which was in the middle of a heatwave, with temperatures nudging 100 degrees in the shade. There was also a sizeable English presence in the crowd, more unusual in the era before the ubiquitous Barmy Army travelled the world following the side.

On the first day England plodded to 242 for 4 in 88 overs, Chris Tavare batting from start to finish for an unbeaten 66, including no runs at all in the last 75 minutes. The second day was just as pedestrian, and as the searingly hot afternoon went on, a large contingent of England supporters, many of whom would have looked more at home at Millwall than the WACA, grew more vocal and more aggressive towards the Australian fielders.

As the innings drew to a close, Bob Willis edged Terry Alderman through the slips to bring up the 400, and that triggered a pitch invasion by a couple of dozen youths. At first it appeared to be nothing unusual - such incursions were still common at the time when landmarks were reached - but it quickly turned ugly.

Alderman, who had already angrily ushered one spectator away with a shove, was making his way to his position at square leg, with his back to the middle, when another invader - an "objectionable and semi-drunk" unemployed 19-year-old English migrant named Gary Donnison - moving back towards the stands, appeared to punch him on the back of the head as he ran past. Alderman, after five sessions in the field and having just been edged for four, was in no mood to turn the other cheek.

"I have played a bit of Aussie Rules and I know what a gentle tap is and what a thump to the head is, and that was a thump to the back of the head," Alderman said. "With that he ran off, and I could see that there were no police in the vicinity so I attempted to apprehend him."

He charged some 20 yards after the spectator and rugby-tackled him to the ground, but fell heavily on his right shoulder. The damage was not immediately obvious to most spectators as the pair wrestled on the outfield, Donnison swinging a punch at Alderman. "I can't remember a lot of how I fell ... but I was immediately aware I was injured ... it was very painful indeed," Alderman said.

Within seconds Dennis Lillee had come to his team-mate's assistance and dragged Donnison off, and Allan Border soon followed to lend a hand. As they pinned Donnison to the ground and waited for the police to arrive, it was suddenly apparent that Alderman was in some distress.

With spectators still milling around, doctors and physios rushed out to help. Alderman had dislocated his shoulder, and it took some time for a stretcher to be summoned and Alderman to be carried off. As all this was going on, fighting broke out in the stands. "The people involved in the mass punch-up belonged to everyone and no one," wrote Matthew Engel.

Back in the middle, Greg Chappell, Australia's captain, had agreed with the umpires that the players would leave the field, although, at the request of the officials, Willis and Bob Taylor remained. During the 14-minute delay, the ground authorities evicted dozens of spectators, while many were arrested and charged with offences ranging from urinating in public to disorderly conduct and fighting.

The England innings finished soon after, and in a surreal atmosphere, Australia reached 11 for 0 by the close.

Reaction was mixed. Although everyone was highly critical of the spectators' behaviour, many felt that Alderman had in part contributed to his own suffering by trying to take the law into his own hands. "For a remote and sleepy city, Perth had a surprisingly large hard core of hooligans," Willis said years later. "However, Terry was stupid to head off in pursuit of that idiot and the injury set back his career a lot."

Bernard Thomas, the England physio, tends to Alderman as he is carried off © Getty Images

The Australia board immediately imposed regulations that no player was to tackle spectators, although that was not welcomed by everyone. "It's all very well to sit back and say that cricketers should quietly accept being verbally taunted and physically attacked by drunken louts," said Border, "but you wouldn't accept such treatment while walking down the street."

Other grounds took immediate action. The MCG announced a ban on alcohol being brought in for the Test, while the authorities at the SCG reportedly discussed erecting a barbed-wire fence, in use for some AFL matches, outside the boundary.

Channel Nine's advertising strategy was also attacked, but station officials brushed aside claims that their advertisements had contributed to the ugly atmosphere and said there were "no reasons" not to carry on running them.

Initially it was thought that Alderman would only miss the second Test, but the injury proved far more serious. "At the time I thought it would just pop back in - little did I know that it would be a year before I could bowl in a competitive match again," he said. "I had to learn to swim a mile a day for eight months. What is tough in sport, is that if you have a physical injury or problem, no one wants to know you. In a way, when I came back, it was like starting another career."

Twenty-six people eventually appeared in court and received sentences ranging from A$30 fines to imprisonment. Pat Killick, a 23-year-old Australian who had actually played club cricket with Alderman, was one of three men jailed for three months.

Donnison was eventually found guilty of assault and was fined $500 and ordered to do 200 hours of community service. His family received death threats, believed to be from gamblers who had bet on an Australian win, and had to be put under police guard. "I have heard that he has got his act together and is a reborn Christian with a wife and three kids," Alderman said, "so some good came out of it, I suppose."

Click here for a video of the incident

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo