The view from the other side
As a uni student I skipped lectures to take the 395 bus ten minutes down Anzac Parade, walk across the car park and enter the Sydney Cricket Ground. Entry was around the back of the Sheridan Stand, which would take you onto the grass below the scoreboard. You could see the score before you could see the play, and there was always nervous expectation about just how the underperforming Blues would be going.
Then you could sit on the Hill and watch Gary Gilmour flail Wayne Prior for a murderous century. Diametrically across the ground was the Members Stand, a monument to both history and progress. It was 180 yards away in a straight line but a seemingly unreachable distance for a budding optometry student-cum-fast bowler.
Within 12 months I had the view from the other side, from inside the dressing rooms shared by Bradman, O'Reilly, Benaud, Spofforth and Gilmour. In later years, when a dressing room refurbishment was planned, I did some research to find out where all the luminous greats had spread their kit and found I shared the same seat as Keith Miller and Charles Turner among others.
World Series Cricket meant a lot of New South Welshman had taken Kerry Packer's cash and inexperienced club cricketers got to play for their state. I was one of those. On debut I was not allowed to drive my two-tone nipple pink EK Holden into the SCG until the state captain (playing his second Sheffield Shield game) arrived in his two-tone grey EK Holden and the gatekeeper relented. We parked directly behind the Members Stand, sandwiching the governor general's Rolls Royce. If only we had mobile phones with cameras in those days!
The dressing rooms had not changed since Bradman sugared his tea after dinking a single to long-on for his 100th hundred. The hard wooden benches, repainted so many times, still revealed the fossils where great fast bowlers and mighty batsmen rested their footwear during restless days inside.
In 1975 I watched with my best mate from the shadows of the Bob Stand as Thommo and Lillee broke the sound barrier, and John Edrich's ribs. The one shilling stand was replaced by the Hills and then appropriately renamed after a cricket great instead of a politician. It looked better but offered less shade than the low canopy of the old Bob, which found its way across the harbour to North Sydney Oval where it still does sterling service for New South Wales one-day matches.
A Shield game was halted as the demolishers collapsed the old Sheridan into dust and splinters before our very eyes. From the outfield you could watch the traffic travail Anzac Parade for a few months and the spinners all wanted to change ends when the westerly whistled through. Though the Sheridan and Brewongle had character, the new Churchill and Brewongle bring an unmatchable view and comfort and amenity to the punters.
The Hill devolved slowly and sometimes surreptitiously. We arrived one morning for a Shield game and found the bulldozers had been in overnight and the last of the grassy hill disappeared. No time for complaint, no time for protest, the famous Yabba's Hill had become a concrete jungle. Now the sparkling Trumper Stand brings a modern serving of corporate facilities and public convenience where Yabba once extolled the virtues of slow batsmen and home-grown house flies. The architects have done a wonderful job of preserving style and modernity along with history and tradition. It is not an easy remit. The retention of the Members and Ladies Stands brings the unique to a grand old lady. They are preserved under law and under common sense, hopefully forever, or at least until Ricky Ponting retires.
Inside, the home dressing rooms have been modernised with microwave ovens and heated spa. The walls are adorned with the outlines of Sheffield Shields won in recent decades by the Blues and signed within the framed brickwork. It is history as part of the building itself.
While the outbuildings almost become the character of the fans, participants and staff, the real character builder for the players exists out in the middle of the ground. The pitch for Lillee and Thomson was green, fiery and full of bounce. By some bizarre circumstance that suggests bad karma from a previous life, in my 14 years of plying my trade on the 22 yards I never - repeat, NEVER - played on a seaming grassy one. The SCG was a dust bowl, New South Wales played three spinners and the quicks were a misnomer, bowling fastish offbreaks and reverse swing. Tom Parker has found modern medicine that promotes green growth and the pitch in contemporary times is coated in grass and friendly to wrist-spinning, a recipe Richie Benaud confirms was similar to the late 1950s and into the '60s. I couldn't tell you what it did in when I saw my first cricket match at the ground in 1969, because the slope was such that the fine-leg boundary at the Randwick/Southern End is a good three feet below the middle, and even on tippy-toes I couldn't make out the playing patch.
I am privileged. I dreamed of playing something on the SCG, but it didn't have to be cricket. I played a career on the inside and now I get to describe the game from the outside. The superstructure of the SCG has changed a great deal since my first visit 44 years ago, but the history remains and grows, and the ghosts that inhabit the stands don't care if their habitats are made from Sydney sandstone, Hawkesbury clay or glass and stainless steel. They just want us to remember that it is a cricket ground, not a stadium. And so do I.
Geoff Lawson played 46 Test matches for Australia, and has coached NSW and Pakistan. He now commentates on the game for ABC radio.