The WACA: a ground for all reasons

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India are furious about a 'WACA pitch party' where the Test pitch was walked on before the third Test (Fox Sports)

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The WACA Ground, the venue for tomorrow’s third Test between Australia and South Africa, has a history of hosting some of the most controversial and spectacular occurrences in Test history.

Perth as a Test venue is a reasonably recent development, with local hero Graham McKenzie delivering the first ball to England’s Brian Luckhurst on 11 December 1970.

Throughout the subsequent 42 years, headlines have been made on a regular basis, with not all of them to do with the play unfolding in the middle.

For some reason the ground has often ignited the short fuses of players caught up in the hurly-burly that is Test cricket.

During the Australia-Pakistan Test in 1979-80, the visitor’s number 11 batsman, Sikander Bakht, was run out by pace bowler Alan Hurst as he ran into bowl.

Whilst Sikander wasn’t the first player to suffer the ignominy of dismissal by Mankad, the fact that Hurst had not previously warned him caused great rancour.

At the time, Andrew Hilditch was deputizing for Kim Hughes, who was off the field and could have chosen to withdraw the appeal but opted not to.

Later the same day, Pakistan got its revenge when Hilditch was given out handled ball.

The vice-captain stopped a wayward throw that had been returned to the bowler’s end and lobbed it back to pace bowler Sarfraz Nawaz, who immediately appealed for handling the ball.

With umpire Tony Crafter having no option, he gave Hilditch out with the Australian opener entering the history books as the second man to be dismissed in that fashion in the Test arena.

Umpire Crafter and Pakistan were back in the spotlight in 1981-82 when captain Javed Miandad and fast bowler Dennis Lillee got into a fiery exchange.

After a collision between the pair when Javed completed a single, Lillee kicked him in the back of the thigh believing that the Pakistani had deliberately jabbed in the ribs with his bat.

TV replays at the time had both camps viewing the same vision in very different lights.

Javed, however, responded by swinging around and lifting his bat, as you would an axe, threatening to clock Lillee over the head.

It was only the quick thinking intervention by Crafter, who got between the pair, that defused the situation.

Lillee’s teammates issued him with a $200 fine, the equivalent of one day’s match fee.

However, the umpires were dissatisfied with the penalty, conveying it to the ACB.

The outcome saw Lillee suspended for two one-day internationals while, in an endeavour to keep the peace and in an act of diplomacy, Javed was let off for his part in one of the most replayed moments in cricket history.

Two seasons earlier in an Ashes Test, Lillee was in the headlines again after walking to the middle with an aluminium bat.

He scored three runs off four balls before England skipper Mike Brearley approached the umpires to inform them that the ball was being damaged by the bat.

What followed was a farcical ten-minute break in play after Lillee entered into a protracted debate with the umpires.

It was only after the intervention of skipper Greg Chappell, who persuaded Lillee to opt for a traditional wooden bat, that play resumed.

But not before Lillee, in his petulance, threw his aluminium bat 20 metres in anger.

Subsequent to the fiasco, the MCC rewrote the laws of the game stating that in future only wooden bats could be used.

Lillee’s fast bowling mate, Terry Alderman, was at the centre of an extremely black day in the sport’s history during the 1982-83 Ashes Test following a mob invasion of the ground.

One of the trespassers clipped Alderman on the back of the head as he ran past him.

Not happy with the treatment, Alderman set off in pursuit and tackled the man to the ground and in the process badly dislocated his right shoulder.

He was carried by stretcher from the ground with several teammates acting as bearers.

Alderman, who had captured 42 wickets on the previous year’s Ashes tour, was sidelined for over 12 months.

While all of these incidents were blights on the game, there has also been myriad magical moments played out in the middle.

In the days of Lillee and McKenzie, the WACA Ground was renowned for possessing the fastest and bounciest pitches in world cricket, thanks to long-standing curator Roy Abbott.

But one of the major redevelopments at the ground in the 1990s saw the centre pitch block change in nature.

But thankfully under the stewardship of curator Cam Sutherland, some of the unique ingredients of the past are resurfacing.

During the phase in which the pitches became cracked and wide fissures opened up many fast bowlers played havoc, none more so than West Indian Curtly Ambrose, who unleashed a devastating spell of 7/1 en route to opening day figures of 18-9-25-7 in 1992-93.

Lillee had an equally devastating spell on the old WACA pitch against the Rest of the World in 1970-71, picking up 8/29.

The ground has seen Test hat-tricks to Merv Hughes and Glenn McGrath and Kapil Dev’s 400th Test wicket.

And in the batting department, Zimbabwe’s bowlers were hammered in 2003/04 when Matthew Hayden posted a world record 380 while Adam Gilchrist fell one ball short of equalling Viv Richards’ record for the fastest Test century when he reached his ton against England in 2006-07 off just 57 balls.

For a Test venue with a history of little over four decades, the WACA Ground has produced a well-chronicled list of memorable moments, both famous and infamous.

We wait to see what the next chapter holds when the battle for the number world ranking starts tomorrow in what will be the ground’s 40th Test match.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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