When I was a boy ….

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty-four years, nearly quarter of a century, since the Poms last won an Ashes series on Australian soil.  They get a chance to atone again this summer.

Sign 'o the Times. On Fishoek Beach resplendent in an America's Cup 1987 shirt

However, my main reason for mentioning the summer 1986/7 is more to reflect on the profound change in technology and communication in that time.  An object lesson for the kiddies too young to remember what life was like before satellites and mobile phones.

I viewed the 86/7 Ashes from two continents.  I was in Townsville when Ian Botham flicked a remarkable six over his shoulder and across the dog track (!) in front of the now-bulldozed Hill at the ‘Gabba.  It’s a fairly standard shot in Twenty20 cricket now, but back then it was unheard of.

The second Test was in Perth and it ground into a dull draw. We touched down in Perth on Day 5 for a stop over before a holiday in South Africa.

The cab driver taking us to the Hotel overheard us talking about the cricket and told Dad and me to meet him in an hour at the gates of the WACA – where he greeted us with a pair of badges to allow us access to the Members Stand.  We ventured around the concourse as the crowd tittered about a side strain just suffered by Botham, putting it down to marijuana use as he’d returned a positive test in the previous twelve months.

We spent several hours being chilled by the Fremantle Doctor as the Australians batted to save the Test which they managed, keeping the series at 1-0 in the favour of the Brits.

Thereafter my knowledge of the ongoing series was confined to following the results in the afternoon edition of the Argus newspaper in Cape Town as we spent the summer lazing on Fishoek and Muizenberg Beaches.  Steve Waugh showed glimpses of his potential as the Adelaide Test was drawn before the English clinched the Series with a storming win in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.  For their pains they were serenaded by pop star Elton John who was playing a sell-out tour at the time.

The last time the English raised the urn on Australian soil.

The South African papers carried photos of Gatting and his crew popping the champagne whilst Australian cricket languished in the doldrums.  At the same time they were also covering a second Australian side – the team of Australian Rebels, led by former captain Kim Hughes, who were being paid massive wads of Rand to break the sporting sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa to combat Clive Rice‘s team.

Which brings us to the Fifth Test of the Series which was fought out at the SCG.  By this time we’d left South Africa (a sad farewell to my siblings and nephews and nieces, not knowing when we would see them again) to have a week in the beloved city of my boyhood, Bulawayo.  Coverage of the Fifth Test was limited to small daily boxes buried deep in the sports section of the Bulawayo Chronicle.  The fourth day report had the Test balanced on a knife-edge, England having made a good start in a chase of 320.  Wickets were falling to a fellow I’d never heard of – Peter Taylor.

So to the next morning, excitedly opening the paper to find out the final result and …………. nothing.  Anxiously leafing through every page to see where it was buried it so became apparent that for some inexplicable reason The Chronicle had seen fit to neglect to publish the result.  This frantic search was repeated for two more days until I gave up, realising I’d have to wait for touchdown in Australia.

Which really sums up the era.  If traditional, mainstream media didn’t cover it, it didn’t exist.  Living in Australia major sporting competitions like the NFL or the European soccer leagues could come and go and we’d be completely oblivious to their existence, let alone the results.

Compare that today when the whole world of news and sport is literally on command, and at one’s fingertips, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  At a press of a button and a flick of the finger it’s possible to get live streaming of the Minnesota Vikings playing the New England Patriots complete with a close-up of the laceration to Brett Favre’s jaw.

Now just a couple of observations on this:

  1. For how long can Channel Nine arrogantly hog the free-to-air rights to things like the NRL and show the games on delay knowing full well it is almost impossible to stay away from the result in a world of SMS, Twitter, Facebook, live updates, internet streaming etc etc etc?
  2. I’m not totally convinced life is entirely better with an on-demand stream of information and the ability to be contacted at all times.  There was something great about being buried in the wilds of Africa 24 years ago knowing the only way we could be drawn back to home-based reality was via a very expensive landline call – disincentive enough in itself.  It’s a lot harder work to get solitude these days.

(Australia won that Fifth Test in Sydney by the way).

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4 Responses to When I was a boy ….

  1. Stan says:

    As usual great writing, and stirring up some great memories. What I’d give to amble down the harbourside this arvo at Fishoek for a cold Windhoek and some snoek as we watch the shadows lengthen from the setting sun?

    • mzilikazi says:

      I was under the legal age when last at Fishoek so the delights of Windhoek were beyond me. So anyway, have you bought the lotto ticket that it going to fund our sojourn back to Africa?

      • Stan says:

        Yes but I lucked out on the weekend and didn’t quite make it to the TAB for the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday. We’ll have to wait for another boat to come in

  2. Siddharth Ranjan says:

    another throughly enjoyable piece of sports related writing from the one and only : Andrew Grant 🙂

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