Having never been to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s located walking distance from the center of Sydney and right next to the Sydney Football Stadium (called Aussie Stadium these days).
It was a full house on January 4th for the third day of Steve Waugh‘s final test match. India were still amassing their huge first innings total and we weren’t sure if we’d get to see the great man bat that day. The only seats available for purchase over the internet before we left Brisbane were in the alcohol-free section, which went somewhat against the grain of a day at the cricket. We also saw at the entrance that there would be no pass-outs, meaning once you were in, you were in for good. When Sean went to a test match at the Gabba in ’94 he said that the crowd left the ground at lunch to go across the street for a beer and steak sandwich at the pub. No such luck here.
The SCG is an old stadium, but has undergone some refurbishments and now it’s an all-seater. Capacity is listed at 43,562. After visiting some newer stadiums like Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, you can see how the SCG is limited somewhat. There are plenty of food and drink vendors, but the walkways are quite narrow so at lunch and tea, the aisles get jammed with hot and sweaty folk trying to get to one place or another. It certainly makes for some interesting aromas. I would hate to imagine what would happen in an emergency.
Sean and I arrived right before the start of play. We located our seats and grabbed a beer. Because we couldn’t take the beer to our seats, we drank it in the walkway behind the seats. We could not see the ground but we heard the cheer as the players came onto the field. Dumping what was left of the beer (not much, but we were tired and it was 10am), we got to our seats to join the applause for that man Waugh as he led the Australian team onto the field.
Not long after sitting down we realised we were in hell. The sun was beating down on us and there was no shade. We slip-slop-slapped, and I added a t-shirt over my legs and pulled my arms inside my (stupidly) short-sleeve shirt. We sat there, roasting, for about 10 overs before conceding defeat. You can walk around almost the entire ground and we did that in a search for some shade.
Along the way I was SMS’ing with Sophie Dixon-Box, author of the There And Back Again…Maybe travelogue. She was at the ground with a couple of her Indian-English friends. By pure chance they had gotten tickets at the last minute seated in the middle of the Indian fans. Her description of her location was “We’re in the middle of that big crowd of Indians with drums”. She was pretty easy to locate.
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They also had no protection from the sun, but the atmosphere was great. The Indians had plenty to cheer about (thanks for the pic, Sophie) as they hammered the Aussie bowling for 705 before declaring. We chatted with Sophie for a little while, took some photos, and arranged to meet up after the game for a beer.
Continuing our stroll we found a good vantage point under the Doug Walters Stand. Plenty of shade and a nice breeze on occasion. We watched the beginning of the Aussie innings from there and saw Justin Langer tee off on the Indian attack, while Matty Hayden scored a run every half hour.
We’d overheard a crowd steward near our seats mention that we’d get shade over our seats after 1pm. We ventured back and sure enough it was blissfully cool. In fact, it was even a little chilly as the wind picked up in the afternoon. No complaining though, it was way better than the frying pan we were in earlier. We even managed to see some celebrities, like Richie Benaud and Allan Border.
The Aussies had gotten off to a good start and were looking good to make a game of it. Langer brought up his ton with a nice reverse sweep shot and Hayden notched an aggressive half century. We didn’t think we’d get to see Waugh bat, but then the wickets started to tumble. Ricky Ponting got out cheaply and Damien Martyn never looked confident before being dismissed for 7. And all of a sudden Steve Waugh was striding to the crease, wearing his baggy green cap. The crowd was on it’s feet immediately, clapping and chanting his name. The red hankies that were given out with a local paper were being waved about all over the ground. The Indians showed their respect for the 168 test match veteran by lining up and applauding him.
The pressure was on with Australia still far behind on runs. They needed a big innings from their captain. It was getting towards the end of the day and with a new batsman at the crease, the game slowed down. Sean and I were thinking about leaving. We were exhausted from the day before and being in the sun. But then Waugh started to get the runs ticking over. We thought we’d stick around to see his half century. Unfortunately, it never came. On 40 he got a pearler of a delivery from the youngster Pathan. A groan went around the ground, but then everyone was back up on their feet, applauding, potentially for the last time.
After that, there wasn’t much to keep us at the ground. We’d seen what we’d come to see. The atmosphere was fantastic and I was stoked to have been part of it. We walked back to our hotel and got ourselves cleaned up for the night ahead.