MY FIRST ASHES TEST

In February I wrote a blog about my first test match in India as Australian team doctor, but tomorrow is the ultimate – my first Ashes test in England.

I grew up lying in bed at night with my little transistor radio (get your parents to tell you about them if you youngsters don’t know what one is) next to me on the pillow, invariably with one of my parents switching it off after I had fallen asleep. Then I had to be awake at twenty to eight the next morning to listen to Alan McGilvray’s report of the day’s play. That five minutes before the ABC news each morning would set the tone for the rest of the day.

The first series I remember is the 1961 tour, highlighted by one of the greatest test matches ever -  the fourth test in Manchester. One of my favorite childhood books was Ray Lindwall’s A Tale of Two Tests written about the tied test against the West Indies at the Gabba in the wonderful 1960-61 series and that 4th test in 1961.

The teams had each won a test with one drawn coming into the Old Trafford test. The game started badly for Australia with a first innings deficit of 177 despite an excellent 74 from Bill Lawry who really announced himself on the international cricket scene on that tour. Initially selected as the reserve opener behind the established pair of Bobby Simpson and Colin McDonald his weight of runs early in the tour was rewarded with a test spot and one of our greatest ever opening partnerships of Simpson and Lawry was born. Lawry did even better in his second dig making 102. At 9/334 Australia was in big trouble with a lead of only 157 but a magnificent last wicket stand from fast bowlers Alan Davidson (77no) and Graham McKenzie (32) extended the lead by a further 98.

England were cruising to victory at 1/150 with “Lord Ted” Dexter in imperious form when Richie Benaud switched to round the wicket to bowl into Freddie Trueman’s footmarks. In 20 minutes before tea he removed Dexter, May, Close and Subba Row. After tea England lost another couple of wickets and desperately tried to hang on for a draw. However the Aussie bowlers cleaned up the tail and with 20 minutes to go secured a famous victory by 54 runs with Benaud taking 6/70. That victory ensured we retained the Ashes.

I have so many memories of great Ashes tests through the sixties and seventies culminating in the amazing Centenary Test at the G (during my final year medicine exams – not sure the Faculty would have accepted that as an excuse had I failed) with Rick McCosker batting with his broken jaw strapped up, Rod Marsh’s first test ton, brilliant performances from Dennis Lillee and Derek Randall, Hookesy’s sixes off Tony Greig, and the astonishing winning margin the same as the first test 100 years previously.

I lived in London for three years from 1979-82 and unfortunately that coincided with the disastrous Ashes series of 1981 when we managed to lose the unloseable test after England followed on, thanks to the remarkable efforts of Botham and Willis. I remember watching it in the hospital TV room while on duty and feeling sick in the stomach throughout our dismal second innings.

Like every Australian I thoroughly enjoyed our dominance through the nineties and early noughties. I couldn’t get enough of beating the Poms. People used to say they they hoped it would be a close series and that the Poms would give us a run for our money. Rubbish. I wanted us to win every test by as much as possible.

The came the agony of the 2005 tour with McGrath stepping on the ball and injuring his ankle prior to the second test at Edgbaston then nearly pulling off a miraculous victory falling two runs short. How did we lose that series with the team we had?

Anyway it made us thirsty for revenge and what better response than the 5-0 whitewash in the 2006-7 Aussie summer. Has there been a better fifth day than the second test in Adelaide watching Warnie and co bowl us to a seemingly impossible victory. The Poms never recovered from that one.

And has there been a better first day of a Boxing Test with 89,000 people urging Warnie on to take his 700th wicket in his home town. I will never forget the roar when he bowled Strauss and took off on his celebratory run.

By this time I had a bunch of cricket loving kids and we would have to drive home 4 hours from the mother-in-law’s every Xmas evening to be back in time for the start of play on Boxing Day. Nowadays the kids usually head off to meet their mates at the bar about lunch, but at least we have one family session together!

My most interesting Boxing Day first session was when I took a call from ABC sports boss Susie Robinson enquiring whether I was at the ground and if so could I come up to the broadcast box as “Kerry has done his back”. So while the rest of the commentary team covered for Kerry O’Keeffe’s absence, I was treating him on the floor of the adjoining box.

Which brings me to the present. I have been on tour with the team for just over two weeks, a tour which started with the replacement of the coach, but hopefully will finish with an Ashes victory. Already I have had a taste of English county cricket at Taunton and then in the shadow of the magnificent cathedral at Worcester.  

This week I have been walking laps of the Trent Bridge ground while the boys have been training, pinching myself that I am actually involved in one of those tests I spent my childhood listening to. Go Aussies.