Reviewing the third day of the recent Sydney Test, it’s hard to judge just who received the biggest cheer. Matthew Wade for his swashbuckling century, Jackson Bird for every less-than-assured defensive stroke or nervously prodded single that allowed the wicketkeeper to reach triple figures, or Dhammika Prasad for dropping Wade on the fine leg fence two balls after he notched his milestone. Or perhaps it was Mike Hussey, either for his Paul Vautin-esque catch off Nathan Lyon’s bowling (well, it mightn’t have topped Fatty, but Mr. Cricket’s achievements deserve a little embellishment following an often understated career), or Michael Clarke for throwing the ball to the retiring star for the final over of the day.
Clarke’s move took more than a hint of encouragement from the crowd, who persistently chanted “Give Huss a bowl” throughout the afternoon, a cry that grew louder with every $7 schooner of Carlton Mid they shelled for. It reflected one of the most engaged sporting crowds I’ve seen. They oohed and aahed at every play and miss, roared the fieldsmen on the boundary, laughed when they heard Kerry O’Keeffe spinning a yarn in their Vodafone earpiece, and politely clapped every Mahela Jayawardene cover drive. The Sri Lankan skipper must have earned plenty of goodwill in the morning session, when his overly defensive tactics opened the door for Wade to bash his way to a ton and extend Australia’s match-winning lead – or maybe the sunbaked gallery was simply put in a generous mood by an afternoon on the Carlton Mids; one neighbouring group of eight or so reptiles sipped their way through an enviable 29 trays (24 to tea, but they slowed up in the final session), a hefty contribution of $812 to the SCG coffers, not to mention the dollar charged for each tray.
There was no concern about getting value for money from the price of admission, though. There are few cricket phenomena that thrill a crowd like the lower order swinging the willow, and 90 runs in as many minutes from Australia’s tail thrilled a resplendent SCG throng, pretty in pink for Jane McGrath Day, which is fast becoming an institution on the Harbour City’s sporting calendar. The mood was sobered by a determined stand by the ungainly Dimuth Karunaratne and his considerably more elegant partner Jayawardene, but six wickets to five different bowlers in the post-tea session sent the pink-clad punters into Surry Hills’ watering holes in high spirits, toasting the impending three-nil series victory over an opposition that, in the words of Bart Simpson, folds faster than Superman on laundry day.
In excess of 20,000 Sydney-siders filled the abbreviated SCG, which presently bears a gaping hole at the Paddington End, where the space previously occupied by the Bradman and Noble Stands is being filled by an as yet unnamed replacement. The new Northern Stand will house 13,360 members – and, more importantly, its very own microbrewery (I can’t wait to sample a VVS Laxman IPA, a Dougie Walters Bitter and a Colin Miller Pale Ale) – by next summer’s New Year’s Test against England.
The construction site serves as a metaphor for the incompleteness of Michael Clarke’s Baggy Greens, still adolescent in cricket terms due to an unsettled batting order and a pace attack prone to injury, still very much a work in progress. The new stand will definitely be ready when Alastair Cook’s Lions roll into town next year, but I’m not so confident in the structure of Clarke’s XI.