Thursday, 24 November 2011
Sydney Cricket Ground
Speaking on ABC radio in the early 1930s, a famous Sydney Cricket Ground member declared: 'Breathes there a man with a soul so dead that he never heard of the Sydney Cricket Ground.' That SCG member was none other than the Australian journalist and bush poet A. B. 'Banjo' Patterson. The Sydney Cricket Ground has changed a great deal since Banjo attended his first cricket matches there in the 1870s and became an SCG member in 1885. The rifle range and cycle track are gone, but the playing surface, the Members' and Ladies' stands and many of the gardens remain.
Next year marks a significant milestone for the Sydney Cricket Ground. When the Australians take on India in the second test on 3 January 2012 it will be the 100th test match played at the ground. The SCG will join Lord's and the Melbourne Cricket Ground as one of only three grounds in the world to host 100 tests.
It was a cricket-loving colonel from the 11th North Devonshire Regiment—Lieutenant-Colonel John Richardson—who instructed his troops to clear the sand hills and scrubland behind the Victoria Barracks on the south-eastern fringe of colonial Sydney for a cricket ground. The original Garrison Ground was constructed in the 1850s and was used for practice and minor club fixtures, supporting other more established grounds in the vicinity at the Domain, Hyde Park and the Albert Ground in Redfern. The first recorded cricket match on the new ground was between the Garrison Club and the Royal Victoria Club. Garrison won.
The ground became known as the Civil and Military Ground when Colonel Richardson associated himself with the East Sydney Cricket Ground. When he and his troops departed from New South Wales in 1870 to fight in the Sudan, responsibility for the ground was assumed by the New South Wales Regiment and eventually changed hands to the New South Wales Cricket Association in 1875. In January 1876, the colonial government of New South Wales transferred responsibility of the ground to a trust appointed by the Minister for Lands. That trust—now known as the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust—has been in continuous existence for 135 years.
In 1877 the ground was renamed the Association Ground and on 25 October the newly renamed ground hosted the Civil Service Challenge Cup, played between the Government Printing Office and the Audit Office. No-one knows who won. The official inauguration match for the ground was played in February 1878 between Victoria and New South Wales. Controversially, there was a one-shilling admission charge; with one shilling extra for the grandstand and lawn. Many cricket-goers at the time opposed the charging of admission fees to watch their beloved game.
There was more trouble at the ground the following year when the infamous 1879 Sydney riot erupted during a match between New South Wales, led by Dave Gregory, and Lord Harris's touring Englishmen. Irate spectators invaded the pitch when Victorian umpire George Coulthard dubiously gave New South Wales's star player Billy Murdoch out. The pitch was invaded a number of times during the game—one invader was Banjo Patterson—and as a result play was abandoned for the day. When play was resumed after the Sunday rest day, Lord Harris's men crushed the locals by an innings and 41 runs. Edmund Barton, later to become Australia's first Prime Minister, umpired in that match.
In 1878 the only sizeable buildings at the ground were the grandstand, a wooden pavilion and a number of small refreshment stands. In 1894, as the ground continued to grow and develop, it was renamed again—it was to be known as the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In the very early part of last century it was not only great cricketers or football players who were drawing crowds to the SCG. In 1903 and 1904, Sydney was going through a cycling boom—crowds flocked to the SCG to watch African-American world cycling sprint champion Major Taylor train and compete. Major Taylor adjusted to the oddly shaped cycle track around the ground and was so enamoured with the city, and its adoring residents, he named his daughter, born during his stay in the harbour city, Sydney. Overseas cricketers of the calibre of Brian Lara and Graeme Swann, among many others, have followed the same tradition. The SCG has seen many legendary sporting feats as well as many painful failures—not just in cricket but in many sporting codes. It served as a barracks in two world wars.
In cricket, Australia has enjoyed a winning advantage at the SCG. We have won 54 tests, lost 28 and drawn 17. The pre-eminent cricket statistician Ross Dundas has been compiling some fascinating statistics about the length of the 99 test matches played at the SCG. Only one SCG test—played in 1885—lasted two days. Actually it lasted 7 hours and 32 minutes. Twelve tests had three days play, 32 tests had four days play, 45 tests had five days play, seven tests had six days play and two tests had seven days play—the timeless tests of 1924 and 1928. There are a few more records of interest. The lowest total scored in tests at the SCG was 42 by Australia against England in 1888. The highest total was India's 7-705 declared in 2004. The highest individual score was RE Foster's 287 in 1903. The highest batting partnership was Sid Barnes and Don Bradman's 405 in 1946. Three hundred and eighty-five batsmen have scored ducks in 99 tests. The best bowling figures in an innings was England's GA Lohmann's 8-35 in 1887. The SCG does not yield its records lightly!
The bowler to have taken most test match wickets at the SCG was Shane Warne—64 wickets. Adam Gilchrist took the most dismissals as a wicketkeeper—52, with 45 catches and seven stumpings. Greg Chappell took 19 catches, the most by any fieldsman. Allan Border and Steve Waugh jointly hold the record for the most tests played at the SCG—both played 17 tests—with Allan Border the record holding captain, with 11 tests.
Mr President, I know the staff and the SCG Trust are working hard to ensure a fitting celebration of January's milestone. It will be an important occasion for cricket lovers and Sydneysiders. For my part I have been a face in the crowd for every day of 48 of those 99 tests. Tonight I acknowledge all those who have given so many of us so many great memories over so many years.