THE 2005 ADELAIDE TEST MATCH EXPERIENCE

The world’s greatest Test run-scorer made his final Australian curtain call with an unforgettable Man-of-the-Match 226, the world’s greatest Test wicket-taker turned in his best ever Adelaide performance (33-9-80-6) from his favoured Cathedral End (29 of them from the start of Day Four), another new Australian batsman stood out from the pack and made his second consecutive Test century in his third Test and a West Indian all rounder announced his arrival with both ball and bat. Not bad for a dead rubber, in which the visitors were unlucky with at least three umpiring calls.

Nathan Bracken was named 12th man for Australia and was at once released back to Sydney to bowl for New South Wales. Newly qualified Doctor Daniel Harris, a reserve South Australian player, won the fielding and drinks waiter job for Australia, while ever-smiling Tino Best won many Adelaide fans with his affability and good humour from his station on the fence by the Player’s Gate.

The contest teetered back and forth tantalisingly from start to finish, with Australia on top early, the visitors fighting back hard, with Lara’s 200 coming in the final moments of Day One, but Australia looking ominous by late on Day Two. A clatter of wickets early on Day Three saw the West Indies in charge, but a 93 run ninth wicket stand between Hussey and MacGill dragged Australia back to parity and beyond.

Day Four belonged first to Australia, reducing the visitors to 7-106, but the last three wickets added 98 (Bravo, Dwayne!) and when the surprisingly good part-time leggies of Ramnaresh Sarwan should have had Hayden in a slightly bizarre deflection from bat to keeper’s thigh to slip, the visitors might have gone in with a couple of hours to play feeling upbeat. As it was, the Windies made Australia toil for the 106 runs needed on the fifth morning for victory, and in doing so must have gained confidence in their pace attack that lacked Bravo due to injury. The disciplined line and spirited fielding delayed victory and ensured that it was earnt and not just gifted.

The Adelaide Oval Test match experience never fails to deliver something special, while the bucolic splendour of the marquees, big tent and Bradman Room maintains its special attraction to the players and the stayers, for whom the week of the Test is an annual marathon, a colourful blur of faces, laughter, food, wine, beer and frolic, with some actual cricket-watching thrown in.

This year’s Day One dawned sunny, yet unaccustomedly cool with blustery breezes. Nearly 20,000 people witnessed Windies captain Shiv Chanderpaul win the toss, one of the very few things he has won in a tour that for him was almost as tortured as his front-on batting stance with its cross-crease shuffle.

Early inroads by Lee had the visitors 2-19, then 3-53, but Lara was composed and the massive back tent on Adelaide Number Two ground looked good for fish and chips and a bottle of Barossa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which became two, as West Indian fightback on the big screen somehow became a wine-inspired allegory for life.

Brian Lara’s elegant backlift and deft wristy flicks became a visual metaphor for the manner in which my companions and I deal with the yorkers, reverse swing, googlies, wronguns, sandshoe-crushers and bouncers bowled to us in life on a daily basis. The more challenging the delivery, the more imposing the response. Think 1975, John Kerr, Gough Whitlam, I opined, topping up everyone’s glass and noting that the bottle was now empty. If the first morning was slow, it was a canvas upon which the master could lay the foundation strokes for his later flourishes of colour and style. Nothing indeed could save the Australian attack.

By tea, Lara had passed a hundred with trademark elegance and strokes to all corners of the Adelaide Oval, wearing down the combined efforts of Australia’s greatest two wicket takers, its fastest bowler and the world’s next best leggie. The West Indian position had steadied, with 4-194 on the board, so the cool depths of the Chappell Bar, underneath the George Giffen Stand, seemed the place for our continued ruminations.

The beer flowed and so did the runs. While no one else passed 34 for the Windies, Lara was supreme, adding 96 in a slightly extended final session, flaying McGrath for ten in one over just before stumps to raise yet another double ton, about the number that vacated the Chappell Bar all at once to witness the moment live, Yours Truly among the beery, excited throng.

Adelaide is a happy hunting ground for the Master from Trinidad. He had surpassed his majestic 182 of four years before, an innings etched in this hard drive’s memory and that of many others. The sincere outpouring of joy from all parts of the Adelaide Oval will surely stay in Lara’s mind for life. As he noted in the press conference, it was as if he was he was at home at Queen’s Park, such was the spontaneous outpouring of goodwill.

At 7-352, the West Indies had concluded the first day more than satisfactorily and Lara was all the buzz at the back of the George Giffen Stand amidst the colourful marquees. Politicians, industry captains, socialites, many of the Adelaide Crows senior playing list, glamorous ladies, high-fliers, wannabes and old stagers wound down, as the pullers of beer and dispensers of champagne worked overtime.

Day Two arrived and the world record 11,174 Test runs – held by Allan Border – was just a handful of runs away from Brian Lara, a milestone achieved when he nudged a single to leg from his old nemesis Glenn McGrath to enormous Adelaide Oval acclaim. McGrath’s moment in a quieter match for him came when he rattled Lara’s woodwork not long after to end a vintage innings of patience, elegance and greatness.

The West Indians must surely have been happy with 405. Those of us descending into the comfort of the Bradman Dining Room knew that we had much smorgasbord and litres of fine South Australian white and red wine to devour before the Australian position could advance again to dominance. As always, lashings of smoked salmon with prosciutto, oysters and prawns with a Clare Valley Riesling seemed a sensible way to begin.

While Langer (99), Hayden (47 and Ponting (56) chipped away outside, those of us on the case inside manfully persisted with the cold collation meats, salads, pate, cheese and chicken, while supporting the South Australian economy with liberal libations of Coonawarra Shiraz and Barossa Cabernet. As the circumferentially enhanced gentleman at the neighbouring table observed, somebody had to put up their hand and it was heartening to see how many denizens of Adelaide saw fit to do just that, judging by the proximity of the long tables wedged together.

The Australian position looked promising near the close, when we emerged blinking into the afternoon sunshine on the way out the back for the mandatory cleansing ales, until Ponting was trapped in front by Bravo and Langer edged the ball – from the hard working yet runs-profligate Edwards (23-4-114-3) – that he was trying to hook to gain three figures. Nevertheless, 3-229 at stumps was acceptable, we surmised against another Dixie-jazz, beer-soaked, golden stumps sundowner.

However, no one could have predicted the stunning impact of Dwayne Bravo (27-7-84-6) on the third morning. While Australia and indeed the world looks for another Freddie Flintoff, this lithe young man of the Caribbean built upon his first innings 34 with a bowling performance of sustained quality. Hodge fell lbw to Edwards, but Symonds lost his off stump, Gilchrist popped one up to Chanderpaul and Warne was caught and bowled brilliantly low to his left, as Bravo – maintaining an excellent line at sustained lively pace – was instrumental in Australia losing 4-48 before lunch.

After lunch, Brett Lee fell cheaply as well, but Michael Hussey (133*), in just his third test, provided just the kind of mainstay that Cricket Australia has been seeking since the Ashes exposure of perceived middle order weakness. In doing so he found an unlikely ally in the modest batting talents of Stuart MacGill, who, as a wine lover, demonstrated the advantages of ‘bottle age’ with his dogged 22, adding 93 with Hussey.

This alliance saw Hussey ignore many a single to the deep-set field from the first four balls of an over, confident in his ability to continue playing stylish drives on both sides of the wicket, along with the cracking pulls and cuts that would have raced over the ropes had so many West Indian fielders not been scattered to all parts deep.

After the stubborn MacGill was bowled, trying once too often to smash one down the ground, the late-blooming batting bunny Glenn McGrath battled for a brave 5, adding 40 with Hussey to see Australia to a slender lead, an advantage erased by a rapid fifty from Ramnaresh Sarwan, who made light of the early losses of Devon Smith and Hinds.

The morning of Day Four belonged to Shane Warne, who began by putting his report for dissent the previous evening from his mind and bowling nightwatchman Powell around his legs, then having Lara – in his final Australian curtain call – taken reflexively, breath-takingly, by Hayden’s outstretched left hand at slip. He followed this up by inducing an gloved edge from the luckless Chanderpaul to balloon to a diving Hodge at short leg, trapping Dwayne Smith in front and getting a somewhat fortunate caught behind decision against keeper Ramdin, when it appeared that the ball that he edged might have touched the ground before landing in Gilchrist’s gloves.

The West Indians squandered five wickets for just 39 before lunch, when your by now dried out and sober correspondent found himself drawn to the Player’s Gate and proximity of play, as the Test match approached the business end of proceedings. However, Australian fans beginning to celebrate the whitewash with a day to spare reckoned without Dwayne Bravo (64), who opened his shoulders after lunch and took to MacGill severely in his return to the River End bowling crease.

Brett Lee’s return to the crease saw him follow up his earlier, fortunate first-ball-of-a-new-spell lbw decision against Sarwan (62) with another far less controversial removal of the off stump of Bravo (64), also with the first delivery of a new spell. Lee (17-5-46-4) had Edwards caught at slip by Warne, dismissing the West Indies for 204 and Australia needed 182 with a day and around twenty overs to spare. With Hayden rather fortunately still in occupation, courtesy of everyone, including the West Indians, missing the catch at slip from Hayden’s bat via the keeper’s thigh, losing Langer and Ponting cheaply seemed not so bad as stumps were drawn on the penultimate evening.

Ultimately, Australian victory and the clean sweep came four overs after lunch on Day Five, but West Indian seamers Powell (14-2-40-1) and Collymore (20-6-51-2) worked doggedly to restrict the scoring with a tight line, supported by enthusiastic fielding. Hayden (87*) missed out on his fifth century in consecutive Tests, despite opening his shoulders with some cracking drives and crunching pulls, after a few near misses from French cuts and edges. On a pitch that was slowing up, making strokeplay more challenging, Brad Hodge (23) squirted one from Powell to Devon Smith at point, unable to regain his debut Test fluency.

Mike Hussey (30*) emerged, remained undefeated for the match and saw Australia home by a relatively comfortable seven wickets, sewing up a middle order Test place for himself. It ensured that for him – in company with the incomparable Brian Lara, your correspondent and thousands of other South Australians and plenty of interstaters – the Adelaide Oval Test Match Experience remains a very special one.