“It’s not how, it’s how many.”
I grew up with the post-World Series Cricket era. The Test summer of 1979-80 was an odd one with overlapping three-Test series between Australia and England and Australia and the West Indies.
Ian Chappell was on the wane and Greg Chappell ready to ascend the throne. Dennis Keith Lillee was at his peak but so to was one Vivian Richards for the West Indies.
Over the subsequent summers, the sound and look of summer was dictated by the radio and TV; the Channel Nine coverage, in particular, brought Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig, and Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson among the commentators to bring the game to us as never before.
And the performances we saw. In this article, I’d like to explore some of the greatest Australian performances (in Test cricket) that I’ve seen. That means that I missed out on Dougie Walters’ hundred in a session sealed with a last-ball six off Bob Willis.
I recall Walters making his last century against New Zealand after Jimmy Higgs was given a reprieve by umpire Robin Bailhache for intimidatory bowling by, of all people, Lance Cairns (medium but hardly menacing fast). That was Boxing Day 1980 and the last pair added 60 runs.
My number one is from the following year, Boxing Day Test 1981, when another special last-wicket partnership of 43 saw Terry Alderman survive long enough to allow Kim Hughes to make triple figures for one of the all-time special innings.
Hughes came in at 3 for 8. Andy Roberts and Michael Holding had sent the openers on their way but the big scalp was Holding snaring Greg Chappell first ball, caught behind.
Alan Border stuck around for an hour but when he fell for a miserable return of four, Australia were 4 for 26. With Joel Garner and Colin Croft rounding out the pace quartet, this was as tough as Test cricket could be.
Hughes became the glue for the remainder of the innings and while not massive, there were partnerships with Wellham (17) for 33 runs and Rog Marsh (21) for 56 runs and Bruce ‘Roo’ Yardley (21) for another 34. However, three quick wickets saw 6-149 become 9-155.
The value of the almost hour long last wicket stand was to also push deeper into the final session. When Alderman succumbed for ten, the total of 198 was far from imposing, however, in what developed into a cauldron atmosphere, the West Indies top order was tested.
This leads me to my second moment. Dennis Lillee. Earlier in the summer, Lillee had moved past 300 wickets (setting a record in his 56th Test) when Wasim Raja holed out on the hook at the Gabba. In this match, the West Indies would find themselves staggering at 4 for 10 at stumps on Day 1.
Missing Gordon Greenidge, the wonderfully named Sheik Faoud Ahamul Fasiel Bacchus was the first to go, caught by Wood off Alderman. Then, Lillee turn the game on its head.
First, Desmond Haynes nicked to Border at second slip for one. Nightwatchman Colin Croft (a rather ambitious endeavour) was trapped in front shuffling across. At 3 for 6, Australia had the imposing Viv Richards at the crease. To pick him up – or skipper Clive Lloyd at the other end – at this point would be pure gold. With the crowd in full roar, Lillee bowled the last ball of the day and Richards played on. “He’s bowled him, he’s bowled him, the last ball of the day!” Tony Greig called it.
Seven for 83 in the first innings. Famously as well because the wicket of Larry Gomes (caught Greg Chappell) was wicket number 310 for Lillee. That was the world record at the time, seeing Lillee surpass Lance Gibbs. The 7 for 83 surpassed Lillee’s effort of 7 for 89 in the sixth and final Test of the 1981 Ashes tour at the Oval. Three more second-innings wickets – all tailenders and all LBW (a good line to bowl on the MCG pitch of that era) and Lillee wrapped another ten-wicket game.
For Hughes and Lillee, the greatness of individual efforts like these against the best at the time was surely made all the sweeter by the victory in the match itself.
I won’t go into great detail beyond this. My top ten, in no particular order, would include Adam Gilchrist’s 57-ball century against England. Gilchrist might sneak in again for his efforts (149) against Pakistan in Hobart in 1999.
Big Merv Hughes with 13 wickets against the West Indies in 88-89, including a unique hat-trick. He picked up Curtley Ambrose with the final ball of his 36th over. Then Patrick Patterson with the first ball of his 37th and that was the end of the innings, and a five-fer for big Merv.
And so Gordon Greenidge was facing up to a hat-trick ball to begin the West Indies’ second innings, and when he went LBW it was a hat-trick across three overs and two innings.
Dean Jones with a pair of centuries against Pakistan (with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis) in a wonderful drawn Test that also saw Wasim (123) and Imran Khan (136) share a 191-run partnership (Wasim also took five in the first innings).
Then there was Shane Keith Warne in the ‘Christmas’ Test of 1994 – again the MCG baring witness as Warne followed his first innings six with a second innings hat-trick to wrap up the demolition of England. Then there’s Warne again for his 7 for 52 against the West Indies two years earlier.
Dave Warner sneaks in – oddly perhaps. I highly rate his unbeaten second innings 123 (carrying the bat) against New Zealand in Hobart seven years ago. Alas, the Kiwis won the match by just seven runs, so the effort was in vain. Then there was his effort in January 2017 at the SCG with a 78-ball century before lunch on the first morning against Pakistan – and this time it helped set up a 220-run victory.
And then Peter Siddle during the 2010-11 Ashes. He produced a birthday special six-fer, including a hat-trick, at the Gabba in the first Test, but it was his single-handed effort in a lost cause at the MCG that I rate highly.
On Boxing Day 2010, Australia were skittled for just 98. They had a new ball attack of Ryan Harris and Ben Hilfenhaus with Mitch Johnson at first change. The workhorse Siddle was the fourth cab off the rank and there was also Shane Watson and Steve Smith for support.
On paper, it looked pretty good. In reality, a 159-run opening stand blunted the Australians. While Mitch Johnson struggled for control and leaked of 4.6 runs an over it was Siddle and Hilfenhaus who tried to keep it tight. When Siddle trapped Kevin Peitersen in front for 51 it was 3 for 262 and Sidds had all the wickets, before Johnson picked up the next two, both caught Siddle.
Three more wickets to Siddle and his 6 for 75 off 33.1 overs was fitting reward for one of the most wholehearted efforts I’ve seen in a forsaken task.
So, depending upon the counting, that’s either ten or 11 and I haven’t mentioned Steve Waugh at the SCG – until now. What are your stand-out memories of Australians on home soil? And who will mark themselves for the rest of the summer?