It would be difficult to find any individual who spent more time training, playing or celebrating at the SCG than Phil Emery. Across nearly 200 first-class and one day games for New South Wales between 1987 and 1999, many of them as captain, Emery became almost as synonymous with the grand old ground as the Members and Ladies stands that still give it among the most distinctive silhouettes in world cricket.
Next week, however, Emery will find a new way of experiencing the SCG, by sleeping rough on its outfield as part of the Sport Stars Sleepout for the Chappell Foundation, an event held in an effort to raise money for the cause of youth homelessness in Australia. For Emery, the average figure of about 30,000 homeless Australians under the age of 25 on any given night is maddening.
The onset of Covid-19 this year has capped the number of SCG sleepers for the third edition of the event at 32, but provides still more impetus to raise money for the cause. Emery, who over the past 20 years has built a business career in the insurance industry while also serving as chairman of the "Baggy Blues" New South Wales past players association, said he had been floored by the numbers when asked to take part by the foundation's patron Greg Chappell.
Emery will join the likes of Mitchell Starc, Alyssa Healy, Lisa Sthalekar, Steve O'Keefe, Russel Arnold, Stuart MacGill, Alex Blackwell and Daniel Hughes among cricketers taking part on Monday night. Donations, pledged to an individual sleeper, can be made here.
"People never believe it, seeing the numbers it's ridiculous. Hopefully we raise lots of money, increase awareness about the issue and we can do some good with it," he said. "From sending out a message about it at 4 o'clock yesterday, I think at 6 o'clock I had A$2,200 in the space of two hours, of just people generously giving stuff straight away. Extremely generous, it's great."
While the unchanging elements of the SCG have been a big part of its charm, Emery reflected on some of the hidden elements of the ground that he and other state teammates became well familiar with over the course of a career that featured three Sheffield Shield wins in 1990, 1993 and 1994 - the last two as captain.
"It was funny, when you were playing it was like your second home," he said. "There's a bar now underneath the members bar, but it used to be like an underpass with a road that ran through it. We used to park in there in what would be the middle of the bar now. You were out there from pre-season in July, August, even just for fielding, and we used to train on the ground, so you'd spend an enormous amount of time on the field.
"I first went onto the field when I was 11, and that was when the Sheridan Stand was there and the Brewongle and all the old concourse, the big hill, and the Paddington hill and all those things. Playing through the era when they took the hill away, I remember doing an interview with Tracey Holmes and I was facing the members stand on the ground, and she said 'so what's it going to be like playing without the hill' and I went 'what have they done', and I turned around and there were bulldozers on it. I wasn't paying that much attention back then!"
As the son of the former Wallabies international Neville, Emery experienced the old precinct before the advent of the Sydney Football Stadium - currently being rebuilt - and redevelopment of the adjoining showgrounds into a studio complex.
"Going back now, it's still got the same feel to it with the Ladies Stand and the Members Stand, around the back, the nets are the same," Emery said. "But when I was first there we had the No. 2 ground and I played a NSW Colts game there. You used to be able to walk through a little hole in the fence at the top and go through to the sports ground. I played a rugby grand final, my first year out of school in third grade on the sports ground. You had the showground oval, the SCG Nos 1 and 2 and the sports ground all in a row.
"But it's still a fabulous place, it's just got an aura about it, it's a big ground but it's not the MCG. If you put the wicket in the middle its a biggish ground, but it's intimate if that makes sense. The visitors' dressing room has still got the split room between professionals out the back and the gentlemen out the front. That's still there. The home dressing room's changed a bit since I first went in it, there's some mod cons in there, but the layout hasn't changed really, and you wouldn't change that for the world.
"Fabulous feel in the old room, even the little windows and banister out the front where you sit outside. You're not in a dungeon, you get natural light into the place. You can actually stand in the change room and watch the game - not the best view but the best place to be. You can walk out through the bar and then out to bat if you want. That sort of thing - it's connected to the building, you're not hidden away, and that's part of its charm."