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Living 40 minutes away from the MCG is something you can come to take for granted, a homesick Victorian realises
December 26, 2009
Now that I live in London I'm removed from my spiritual home, the MCG; or as we call it, the G.
Living in Melbourne, only 40 minutes from the MCG, is something you can take for granted. Every year I would visit the ground at least 30 times. Most cricket supporters from around the world would love to visit it just once.
My first cricket memory was a state game between NSW and the Vics. Mike Whitney stormed in first ball of the day and slipped over. That's when I fell in love with watching the game. Later in the day Simon O'Donnell hit out, and was eventually caught hooking. That's when I fell in love with Victoria.
First Test I saw was Pakistan. Wasim Akram was the fastest thing I had ever seen, and then Dean Jones came out to face him and was given a Victorian hero's welcome. At that stage Deano was God in Victoria, and because he had gone out for a golden duck in the first innings, everyone was willing him on in the second. Ten runs later and he was sent back by Akram. Later on, a Pakistan player picked the ball up from the fence and someone hit him with a flag. I was 10. It seemed unnecessary, but I still laughed.
The first one-dayer I saw was with my uncle. My dad wouldn't go, as he hated one-day cricket and Kerry Packer. The game was against New Zealand, and the only thing I remember is getting told off by some middle-aged woman who thought I was standing up too much. Oh, and a lot of sheep jokes.
One of the best moments there was when I went to the David Boon memorial game, and spent most of the second innings chatting to Devon Malcolm on the fence. He was a very nice chap - good sense of humour.
I saw Warne's hat-trick. No, really. Was in the underneath section of the old Olympic stand at the back of the first level. Just my dad and me. We actually thought it would be a good day's cricket. First ball, Craig McDermott got a wicket off a full-toss, I think, and I remember saying to Dad what a waste of time it was coming down. Other than the hat-trick, I was correct.
When I was a teenager we used to take plastic containers full of bourbon into the ground strapped to our bodies. Even then, I knew drunk is the only way to truly enjoy a one-dayer. We never really got that drunk, to be honest, and it was so hot you usually sweated it all out straight away.
My dad still won't forgive me for going to the fourth day of a Test, against the Windies in '92. We saw a scrappy day's play, where Damien Martyn made 60-odd, I think. My dad wanted to go on the fifth day, when Warne ended up taking his first seven-wicket haul. Whoops. But I blame him. I knew too much about cricket: he said, let's go to the fifth day, and I said, no, the cricket might not last all day on the fifth. I wanted to see a whole day's play. I was right. It didn't last all day.
In 2001 on the way to the G, my mate Big Daddy and another guy got run over in front of me. I'm talking the full deal - knocked up in the air. The shoes went flying, the windscreen was broken, and it looked like they would both die. The ambulance took us to the hospital. They decided that both of them were okay, so from there we went straight to the cricket. Where Big Daddy continued to take the glass out of his hair for the whole game (and for the next few days).
I remember the state games where Justin Langer would be abused by the Victoria fans from the moment he walked out on the field until the close of play. I also remember him swearing at them, threatening them, and one day squaring up to a guy who was standing next to me. The guy was 6'6", but he backed down before Langer did.
The state games where Greg Matthews would sledge the crowd non-stop. Between every ball, and at the end of every over. In fact the only time he shut up was during his overs.
I saw Glenn McGrath flip the bird to a Victoria supporter one day. Sure, he deserved it, but it was funny coming from McGrath.
Of the three best innings I have seen at the G, only one was not by Matthew Elliott. That was Jacques Kallis holding off Shane Warne on a fifth-day wicket. It was amazing. He was beaten so many times, but he just never wavered.
Almost every time I'm at a cricket game with my dad, he mentions the story about the day he was working the bar at the G, but no one wanted a beer. Sobers was playing for the World XI. My dad watched the whole thing for free. Sobers made a double-hundred, and everyone who saw it knew it was something amazing.
I sledged David Hookes the day he was king hit. He was Victoria coach at the time, and as he often did, he was walking around the boundary while we were struggling. I said, "Think we've got enough allrounders playing, Hookesy." He smiled and said, "Yup". We had about six allrounders playing that day, and Darren Lehmann was smashing them everywhere. Then the game turned, the allrounders took a bag full of wickets. That night he was hit, and he died the next day.
Later that season I went to four out of the five days in the Sheffield Shield final. I was on the ground when the great Darren "Chuck" Berry announced his retirement, and someone yelled out "Oh f***, no" as he said it. I also was at the one-day game where Warne did his shoulder and Berry had to go out and field. When he left, it was as quiet as I have heard the G during a one-day game.
At a football game on the way out, I walked past the Keith Miller statue at the ground. He looked like a superhero, which he practically was. I remember standing there and just staring at it, people must have thought I was mental.
When I was young, I attended a Bushrangers camp where I bowled with Damien Fleming and Craig Howard. And Chuck Berry gave me keeping advice. All of this happened on the G. It remains the only time I have played cricket on the G. But thanks to football season I spent quite a bit of time out on the sacred sandy surface.
The last Test I saw there was the India Test. On one of the days, myself and Big Daddy got amazingly hammered, but we were still trying to focus on what might have been the last time Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid would bat at the G. On that day Sachin's batting sobered us, Rahul's made us rush to the bar.
It's amazing how a piece of real estate can feel like a family member. I feel more comfortable sitting in the grand stand on my own than I have at any job or social situation in my whole life. I took it for granted for all those years, but now, stuck in freezing London, knowing I have to stay up till midnight to see it on the telly, I realise how lucky I was.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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