xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Winter Sports for Couch Potatoes

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Winter Sports for Couch Potatoes

Dedicated couch potatoes like me are about to arrive at our sports Nirvana. While it is winter time in Australia, the sun is shining brightly in the Northern Hemisphere. Wimbledon’s British Open tennis championship commenced last night. A week later, the first Ashes Test Match against England starts on July 7th, followed by the British Open Golf Championships on July12. Shortly after that, the second Ashes Test will commence.
So, over the next two weeks, we members of the Couch Potatoes Fraternity are likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries to our thumb and index fingers as we click the TV remote between cricket, tennis and golf. We will be watching the cream of the crop in these three sports doing battle on large, flat TV screens, right in our very own lounge rooms.  We are also likely to cause our body clocks to go in to meltdown as we tune into the cricket at 6-00pm, then the tennis and golf at around 8-30pm, watching and clicking,  click, click, clicking, until around 2-00 or 3-00am in the morning
It is only every four years that we get the trifecta of tennis, ashes cricket and golf all featuring in the first weeks of July. How spoilt we are these days to have such large, crystal clear, high definition, coloured images coming to us instantaneously via video waves that are bouncing off satellites 32 000 kilometres up in space? It was not always so.
My first memories of being involved in these northern hemisphere summer sporting spectacles during our Australian winter time, started when I was ten years old, in 1948. In March of that year I had wagged school, with my father’s permission, to go to the Western Australian Cricket Association’s cricket ground, affectionately known as the WACA, to watch Don Bradman’s Australian cricket team play against the Western Australian state side.
On that magic Friday afternoon, I saw Don Bradman make 115 in his very last innings at the WACA. A few days later The Don and his team boarded a ship in Fremantle for the four week voyage to England. The Australians arrived in April and, after a week practising at Lords cricket ground in London, they played cricket matches six days a week for the next fifteen weeks, until the middle of August. They never lost a match. They won four of the five Ashes Test matches, one was drawn because of bad weather, and they were never defeated in any of the thirty odd County matches that they played. Because of their unbeaten record, that 1948 Australian Test Team lives in cricket history, forever known as Bradman’s Invincibles. That game that I wagged school to see, played at the WACA over three days in mid-March, 1948, was the one and only time that Don Bradman’s Invincibles ever played in Australia. And I was there. I saw them. I saw Bradman make a century.
As the 1948 winter closed in, my father kept me fully informed about the progress of the Australian team as they played against various county sides. When the long awaited first day of the first test arrived we had an early tea so that Dad and I could huddle over the radio at 6 o’clock that night to hear the first ball bowled.
1948 was the very first year that the ABC broadcast a direct radio coverage of the Ashes Tests from England. The previous Ashes series in England had been in 1938, before the Second World War put a sad stop to cricket for a few years. In that 1938 series, the technology was not available to enable direct radio broadcasts from England. The ABC broadcast those games in England in 1938 from its studios in Sydney. Former NSW cricket captain, Alan McGillivray, commenced his long and distinguished cricket commentating career in that Sydney studio, broadcasting what were called The Synthetic Tests.
McGillivray would set the scene for his radio audience and then be handed a  telegraphic message telling him that Stan McCabe had just driven a ball through mid-off for four. These messages were called “cables” because they were transmitted from London by cable that stretched all the way to Australia. On receiving the cable McGillivray would hit the table with his pencil to simulate the sound of bat hitting ball and then describe in his eloquent fashion how the ball had sped past the fieldsman, who then gave chase to it as it crashed into the pickets. This was followed by the appreciative applause of the crowd, supplied by an ABC sound effects technician.
McGillivray would pad it out a bit, describe how the ball was returned to the bowler, repeat the scores, comment on the enthusiastic crowds and the threatening rain clouds coming in from the west. Then he would receive another cable telling him that Jack Fingleton had glanced the ball to deep backward square leg for two. McGillivray would hit his pencil on the table and continue his colourful, if synthetic, commentary. It was not a trick or a fraud. His vast listening audience knew what was happening, but they appreciated the opportunity to be so closely involved in a test match being played over 12 000 miles away. That’s 19 200 kilometres away in the new money.
The real an authentic overseas radio broadcasts of the Ashes Tests in 1948 were hugely popular, especially the very colourful commentary of John Arlott. Each night Dad and I listened to the static filled broadcasts direct from England as John Arlott’s rich baritone voice painted glorious word pictures for us of the great battles being waged by Australia and England on those green cricket fields in England.
It was sixty seven years ago, but I can still hear Arlott saying “And now, here comes Lindwall from the Kirstall Lane end. His shirt tails flapping in the breeze…” Ah, yes, it was glorious to be such a part of it all while almost 20 000 kilometres away. In those days we had a very large radio, I think it was a Stromberg-Carlson. It stood about four feet tall, that’s 1.3 metres in the new money, and was quite a significant piece of furniture. Each night my father would put some blankets and a pillow at the base of the radio where I would snuggle up and listen as the cricket ebbed and flowed and the static came in waves that sometimes drowned out the broadcasts altogether. I was only ten years old but my father allowed me to stay up as long as I could listening to the test broadcasts. He said they were history making and I should remember them. They were and I certainly do.
The most memorable of all of those 1948 tests was the final day’s play in the Fourth Test at Headingly in Leeds. Dad and I, on that wintry night, huddled close to the wireless in front of the fire, listening to the broadcast. It was the last day’s play and at stumps the day before, England was 400 runs ahead. At 6.00pm that night the voices of John Arlott and Alan McGillivray crackled across the world to tell us that the England Captain, Norman Yardley, to everyone’s surprise, had not declared the England innings closed but was batting on into the final day. This meant that he could use a heavy roller before play started to further break up the already crumbling pitch. It also meant Australia would have less than a day to make the runs. The commentators were sagely saying that there was almost no hope of Australia winning the game.  
After about fifteen minutes of play, Norman Yardley did declare and sent Australia in. They needed to make 404 runs on that last day to win the match. No team in history had ever scored 400 runs in the fourth innings to win a test – and the Australians had to do it in less than 340 minutes on worn wicket. A very worn wicket!
By lunchtime in the match, Bradman and Morris were batting well, but Australia was facing a very stiff task. In Perth it was 8 o’clock on a cold winter’s night. By that stage I was well and truly rugged up in the blanket bed Dad had made for me in front of the radio. During the night we both listened and cheered as Bradman and Morris began to get on top. I stayed awake as long as possible but finally, somewhere between Lunch and Tea of the final day of the fourth test, sleep overtook me
At 6.30am the next morning Dad woke me and said, “We won!” He gave me a quick summary, telling how Morris made 182 and Bradman was 173 not out. Morris was dismissed just before the magic 404 was reached but Bradman and the 21year old, Neil Harvey, got there with 15 minutes to spare. A famous victory which kept intact the undefeated record of Bradman’s “Invincibles”.
  That 173 Not Out was Don Bradman’s last test score. In the Fifth Test he was out second ball for a duck when he played a ball from Eric Hollies on to his stumps. Australia bowled England out for just under 60 runs, put them back in and bowled them out again to remain undefeated. Australia did not need a second innings, so the great Don Bradman did not get the chance to make the six runs that he needed too average exactly 100 runs per innings in his long and illustrious career. Still, an average of 99.94 ranks him at about twice as good as anyone else who has ever played Test cricket.
Those static radio broadcasts of the 1940s are long gone. In the early 1970s they started sending TV telecasts direct from England in scratchy black and white vision.  Now we can watch all of the action in living colour, with the benefits of delayed action, slow motion replays. For a couch potato, life cannot get much better than this. Have to finish now. The tennis starts in an hour and I need to massage my remote control thumb and index finger in preparation for the long winter of TV sports ahead. Bring it on!
 PS: Weather alert. While I do acknowledge that it is winter time in Perth, the temperature today was 24 degrees with a bracing minimum of 9 degrees around sunrise.  They do say it may rain in two days’ time. I hope so, because we really need the water.
 As I sat in Perth’s pleasantly warm, morning sunshine today, having morning tea with my lawn mower man, I reflected that everyone in England would be wishing for very similar weather to see them through the feast of summertime tennis, cricket and golf. We of the Couch Potato Fraternity certainly hope that they get their wish.

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