Lilac Hill lies a half-hour’s drive from the centre of Perth, amid the fringes of the region’s wine industry. The ground is nestled on a tree-lined kink of the Swan River, and is the sort of place that evokes images of bucolic tranquillity. For English tourists, however, such appearances are invariably deceptive. In this fixture, there is always trouble in paradise.
“There’s no such thing as a festival game,” said Alec Stewart after England‘s latest mugging of the tour - a seven-wicket thrashing at the hands of a dervish-bladed Luke Ronchi. Stewart, England’s captain and top-scorer for the day, was still fresh as a daisy despite having played virtually no cricket since his retirement three years ago. That was more than could be said for the rest of his bedraggled team, who had various layers of ring-rustiness scoured off them in the course of the match.
To a backdrop of drunken baying hospitality tents, England’s Generation Next suffered varying degrees of discomfort - Chris Read picked up a fifth-ball duck, Jon Lewis vanished for 51 in seven overs, Liam Plunkett left the field with a dislocated finger and Monty Panesar’s bowling figures suffered a wind-assisted demolition at the hands of Ronchi, who rode a tempting cross-breeze to slap six after six after six. Given Steve Harmison’s infamous eight-wide over in this fixture four years ago, these indignities were more or less par for the course.
A crowd of more than 10,000 turned out to enjoy the spectacle, and revelled in the success of their local favourite, Chris Matthews, who - it would not be unfair to suggest - has been tucking into one or two pies since the days he faced England at the WACA in 1986-87. He wobbled to the crease like the Barmy Army in search of the bar, and yet emerged with three well-priced wickets under his sizeable belt - as many as all England’s bowlers picked up between them.
It was a breathless day all round, and not just for the men in the middle. When news filtered out early in the day that Damien Martyn had retired with immediate effect, it triggered the sort of flurry of activity that the pokey little press enclave had not been designed to accommodate. In fact, the area bore more of a resemblance to a cake-stand at a church fete, and so was not ideally designed for such a melee of stressed electronica and dangling cables. “Don’t spill your bloody coffee on my laptop,” fumed one cramped Aussie photographer to the English gentleman of the press sat next to him. “Actually it’s a cup of tea, and I have no intention of doing so,” came the testy retort.
Press conferences galore interrupted the flow of the day, as Ian Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Wayne Clark queued up to reminisce about Martyn’s career, before a wide-eyed Adam Voges was wheeled before the media to explain the bizarre circumstances of his call-up. A PA announcement was the first he knew of the vacancy in the Australian squad, and a tap on the shoulder at deep midwicket was how he learned he was filling it. “I thought I was in trouble,” he said, as Tony Dodemaide led him to the office to receive a phone call from Cricket Australia.
Nothing was quite so unexpected, however, as the goings-on in the corporate hospitality tent at the back of the pavilion. Roughly half the ground had been given over to various sponsors and their thirsty guests, and so at lunch, while the paying punters milled around on the outfield watching Panesar warming up, the rest rolled out to the marquee to fill their troughs. Several thousand boozy guests, armed with bread rolls, then turned on their after-dinner entertainer - a man who was clearly expecting trouble, given that he came dressed in the sort of garb that a baseball umpire might wear.
His crime? He was singing pro-Collingwood songs. Not the cricketer, I hasten to add, but the Aussie Rules Football team, a Melbourne-based team that one spectator informed me “are like Newcastle in England. Everyone hates them.” England’s cricketers were once likened to pie-chuckers by a Western Australian great, Rod Marsh. Western Australia’s cricket fans, it seems, are roll-flingers. And at Lilac Hill, it was the flingers who were the more effective.
Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine