Cricket: Heroes of concrete jungle

The imposing venue for the Boxing Day Test has a rich history.
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The Independent Online
THE Melbourne Cricket Ground where the fourth Test begins on Boxing Day, was the first Test ground to be turned into a huge sporting arena, not to say a concrete jungle. The reason for this was the 1956 Olympic Games, and the ground can now seat 110,000.

It was the first Test ground of all, as Australia played England from 15 to 19 March 1877. Australia won by 45 runs and Charles Bannerman of Australia became the first Test match century-maker with 165.

Strange things went on. The demon Australian fast bowler Fred Spofforth pulled out when he learned that his own special wicketkeeper, Billy Murdoch, had not been chosen. England were without their only specialist wicketkeeper, Ted Pooley, who was languishing in jail for causing damage to a pub after a successful wager. A return was arranged a fortnight later and this time both Spofforth and Murdoch were picked, but Murdoch still did not keep wicket. England managed to win in a tight finish by four wickets.

It was, of course, the most extraordinary coincidence that when Australia played England in the Centenary Test Match 100 years after that first Test, Australia again won by 45 runs.

Spofforth took 13 wickets when Australia again beat England in 1878-79 and W Bates of Yorkshire put the record straight in 1882-83 when he took 14 wickets as England won by an innings. When England won by 10 wickets and then by an innings at the MCG two years later, Bates was not given a single over in either match.

The 20th century was given an encouraging start for England when Wilfred Rhodes took 15 wickets in the game in 1903-04. In 1911-12, after Sidney Barnes and Frank Foster had bowled Australia out in the second Test, Jack Hobbs and Rhodes put on 323 for the first wicket. After that, the distinguished performances in Melbourne Test Matches read like a rather superior Who's Who.

The famous leg spinner and cartoonist Arthur Mailey took 9 for 121 there in England's second innings in 1920-21. Eight years later, Wally Hammond made 200 while Don Bradman made 112 and then 123.

In the 1932-33 Bodyline series, Bradman made a famous duck when he moved across his stumps to try and pull his first ball from Bill Bowes and edged it into his stumps stunning a 63,000 crowd in a match which Australia won. In the two Tests in Melbourne against England in 1936-37, Bradman made 270 not out and 169.

After the Second World War, in 1950-51, England won their first Test against Australia since 1938 thanks to Reg Simpson's 156 not out. The young Colin Cowdrey made a remarkable 102 out of 191 in 1954-55 and Frank Tyson bowled Australia to defeat with 7 for 27. Cowdrey made two more Test hundreds at the MCG, in 1962-63, when David Sheppard also reached three figures, and in 1965-66 when Bob Cowper made 307 for Australia.

Keith Fletcher and Mike Denness made big hundreds there in 1974-75 when Lillee and Thomson were injured and in the Centenary Test in 1977, Derek Randall scored that memorable 174 .

England won by three runs in 1982-83 when Geoff Miller scooped up a slip catch which Chris Tavare had already dropped. In 1986-87, Mike Gatting's England side won by an innings when Australia were as bad as they can ever have been, but since then, England's performances in this giant stadium have been eminently forgettable.