IT’S IRONIC that the City of Churches, one of Australia’s most laid-back major cities and host to the current second Ashes Test, has been host to two of cricket’s most dramatic pace onslaughts, 80 years apart, says KEN PIESSE:
EMPIRE relations were never so tested in 1932-33 when Bodyliner Harold Larwood struck Australia’s captain Bill Woodfull under the heart and followed by fracturing Bert Oldfield’s skull in incidents which almost caused a riot.
As an ashen-faced Oldfield was assisted from the Adelaide Oval by his captain, troopers on horseback gathered around the boundaries looking to repel the angry crowds should they invade. Next man in Bill O’Reilly said had one patron jumped the fence, thousands would have followed, their targets Larwood and the MCC’s much-maligned captain Douglas Jardine.
Larwood’s high pace that day bordered on the terrifying.
Four years ago in this corresponding Test there was an almost equally lethal spell from Australia’s Mitchell Johnson, his brutal, high-speed solo burying England on an extraordinary Saturday afternoon.
Alastair Cook had his off stump uprooted and Joe Root hit flush on the breastbone before he had time to retreat. The first 10 deliveries from Johnson were all timed at 148 km/h (92 mph) or more. The tearaway from Townsville took eight wickets, including six for 16 from 25 balls early on Saturday afternoon.
It was the most hostile, unrelenting burst of Johnson’s career in the season of his life which was to produce 37 wickets, a record by a left-arm bowler in Ashes contests. Holder of the Ashes since 2009, England was thrashed five-nil.
“Johnson got into the English players’ heads with pace, bounce and aggression,” said the legendary Allan Border. “You can lose your footwork and your focus and the brain can play tricks on you against the pace of someone like Mitchell Johnson. And once your brain and your feet are out of sync, you’re in trouble.”
So often Adelaide by day has been a haven for batsmen, but this Test, given the Adelaide rain and its day-night hours suiting the pacemen from both sides, it could be that both teams are arranging golf four-balls by Tuesday… depending on the weather.
If the game again finishes quickly — a fifth day has been unnecessary for each of the first two day-night Tests in Adelaide — it will be a pity for all the travelers, both from the UK and across the border from Victoria, who have arrived in big numbers for the most social Test of the summer.
Visitors from all around Australia will revel in the atmosphere and ambience — even if the new hours encourage quicker finishes and later openings for local hotels and restaurants.
The redevelopments in and around the ground include a $40 million pedestrian footbridge across the River Torrens which directly links the Adelaide railway station precinct with the wonderfully-green parklands and magnificent gardens surrounding the grand old oval.
Visitors from the UK this summer will immediately feel at home given the oval’s quintessential English “feel” featured at the northern end by the giant figs and old-time scoreboard (built 1911), which is prominent among the city’s heritage listings.
More flowing dresses are on show here than at any other of the Test venues. The members, too, tend to be in smart casual or suits, increasing the “toniness” of it all.
The large marquees, such a feature of Test week, are always packed, the variety and ever-improving quality of the fast-food stalls a highlight.
While Tests were once scheduled around the Australia Day long weekend and often played in ferocious heat and in a wafting haze of bushfire smoke from the nearby Adelaide Hills, this summer’s second Test match is likely to be played in far more comfortable conditions. Hopefully, the rain delays will only be a temporary inconvenience.
Members will be hoping that the game can extend into a fifth day after short Test matches in 2015-16 (three days) and 2016-17 (four).
The ground itself continues to be renowned for its billiard-table playing surface and flat, batting-friendly pitches. Anything short and loose is fruit for the sideboards as the square boundaries, despite the redevelopments, remain short and inviting.
Convalescing after a health scare, Don Bradman once said he regained full fitness running between wickets in Adelaide. His English rival Walter Hammond also had some memorable moments, including twin centuries (199 and 177) during his halcyon Ashes summer of 1928-29.
It was in Adelaide where Andrew Flintoff’s 2006-07 Englishmen started with a record score of 6-551 declared, including a triple-hundred partnership between Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood — yet somehow lost… thanks to the last day’s magnificent bowling of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath who mowed through the Englishmen in extraordinary style. They triggered one of Australia’s most famous wins of all at one of the great grounds, host to Anglo-Australian Tests since 1884.
SPORTSHOUNDS.COM.AU READY RECKONER
ADELAIDE and THE ASHES
Ground capacity: 50,000
Ends: River End (south), Scoreboard or Cathedral End (north)
Australia’s record v England: Played 31: Won 17, Lost 9, Drawn 5
First Ashes Test: 1884-85
Last five Ashes Tests: Australia 3-2
Highest team scores: Australia: 582, 1920-21; England: 5-620 dec., 2010-11
Highest solo scores: Australia: Bob Simpson 225, 1965-66; England: Kevin Pietersen 227, 2010-11
Best bowling: Australia: Albert Trott 8-43, 1894-95; England: Jack White 8-126, 1928-29
Last time: “Hurricane” Johnson takes seven for 40 in a pace blitz head coach Darren Lehmann rates as the most lethal he has witnessed; England tumbles from 1-57 to 172 all out — game over
Local hero: Lehmann… but Ian Chappell still has his fanciers.
Stats fact: This is the first Ashes Test in Adelaide to be played under lights; the expected avalanche of visitors is adding millions to the local economy
Steve Smith’s average here: 81
The players say: Adelaide stands tall with Sydney as the home of reverse swing, the ultra-hard wicket scuffing up the ball and allowing the mediums to bend it like Beckham. The wicket is more “worldly” now, not just a haven for flat track bullies.
Expect: Crowds of 40,000-plus each and every day (weather permitting); big scores in the natural sunlight and big swing from Starc, Anderson and co. when the lights kick in
Author: Ken Piesse
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. He has written, edited and published more than 70 sports books. Signed copies of his latest cricket book Heroes of the Hour, cricket’s quintessential moments from Bradman and Lillee to Warne and Steve Smith, is available from www.cricketbooks.com.au