Cricket: The quickies' fixture

Perth, host of the Second Test, is heaven for the fast men. By Henry Blofeld
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The Independent Online
FOR YEARS Western Australia, who host the Second Test at Perth on Friday, were the poor relations of the country's cricketing states. Rather patronisingly, they were given a form of associate membership to the Sheffield Shield and touring sides always visited Perth at the start of their tour, probably to get the west out of the way as soon as possible.

The WACA was once a lovely country ground within the city boundary with the Swan River running close by and gum trees aplenty just over the boundary. Distance was Perth's problem. The difficulty in travelling from Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne to Perth probably accounted for the Associate status as much as their standard. Western Australia had produced a good number of notable cricketers before the likes of Graham McKenzie, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh. The standards got better and better and fast bowlers always enjoyed the pace of the pitch.

Full status in the Sheffield Shield was eventually acquired and then, in 1970, the WACA was given Test status. Ray Illingworth's England side played the first Test there as a ramshackle country ground put on its Sunday best. It was Greg Chappell's first Test and he adorned the draw with the first of his Test centuries.

Since then few Perth Test matches have been boring. In 1974-75, with Lillee and Jeff Thomson in their pomp, England were beaten by nine wickets in a match which saw the 41-year-old Colin Cowdrey's return to Test cricket - he had flown out as replacement when John Edrich broke a hand.

I remember playing snooker after dinner at the Weld Club with Johnny Woodcock of The Times, against Alec Bedser, the tour manager, and Cowdrey. The press were well beaten as Cowdrey's eye was as accurate as ever, and he was benignly charming without quite realising what was in store for him a couple of days later.

When Thommo was bowling and Cowdrey arrived at the non-striker's end, he smiled and put out his hand to the bowler and said: "I'm Colin Cowdrey. How do you do." And got a dusty answer.

The next year Perth saw Andy Roberts and Michael Holding come together for the first time as the West Indies won by an innings and 87. Roy Fredericks hooked Lillee's first ball of the innings for six. He reached 50 in 33 balls and 169 off 145 with that six and 27 fours in the most remarkable innings of its sort I have ever seen. Ian Chappell made a wonderful 156 for Australia, Roberts took 7 for 54 in their second innings and Lance Gibbs picked up his 300th Test wicket. That was a Test match and a half.

It was still in the Seventies when Bishen Bedi spun 10 Australians out for 194 - one of the rare occasions a spinner has played a decisive role - and in the same match, the left-handed Tony Mann became only the second nightwatchman in history to score a Test hundred as Australia won by two wickets.

Rodney Hogg had 10 for 122 when England won in 1978-79 and the following year, when peace was declared with Kerry Packer, Ian Botham took 11 for 176 and Geoffrey Boycott was left on 99 not out. In the Eighties Carl Rackemann destroyed Pakistan; Michael Holding bowled Australia out for 76; Richard Hadlee's 11 for 155 took New Zealand to victory; Chris Broad, David Gower and Jack Richards all made centuries for England; Viv Richards thrashed a spectacular 149 for the West Indies and Mark Greatbatch, with a momentous 146 not out, saved a Test for New Zealand.

In the Nineties the charming country ground was handed over to the developers and a modern stadium produced. Still the fast bowlers slug it out with the batsmen and still the Fremantle doctor blows up and keeps us all cool. And still the spinners never get a look in - they won't next weekend either.