I have not missed a single cricket Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) since 1970. Here’s my list of the four most thrilling SCG Tests that I have seen.
1971: No rain, but Snow
This was the seventh and final Test in the longest rubber in Test history. England won by 62 runs after many dramas and traumas.
We saw the throwing of beer bottles at England’s fielders, a brief walk out by England’s captain, and bouncers galore by super quickie John Snow.
There was drama even before the Test commenced: the Australian selectors had dumped Bill Lawry and handed the captaincy to Ian Chappell.
There was crowd disturbance after England’s fast bowler Snow hit Australian tail-ender Terry Jenner on the head after pelting him with bouncers.
Outraged, the crowd on the Hill hurled beer cans, and one irate spectator apparently manhandled Snow. This prompted England’s captain Ray Illingworth to lead his team off the field, the first “walk off” in Test history, and 35 years before the “walk over” by the Pakistanis in the 2006 Oval Test. The England players returned soon when the field was cleared of the “missiles” and the controversial Test continued.
Set 223 runs to win, Australia collapsed for 160 to lose the Test as well as the Ashes 0-2.
Snow had dominated the series and to quote cricket author Ray Robinson, “was like a piranha among perch”. Snow captured 31 wickets in the series including a menacing 7-40 in the previous Sydney Test a month ago.
This led to the newspaper headline: “Bleak forecast. No rain, more Snow.” Another reason why this game from February 1971 is among my most thrilling SCG tests.
1987: When Peter “Who” became Peter “Wow”
England had retained the Ashes in 1986-87 by the time the final Test started in Sydney. Australia’s ultimate humiliation was losing the fourth Test in Melbourne by an innings in three days. Heads had to roll and new blood infused. So in came little-known off-spinner Peter Taylor in the side.
“Peter Who?” had headlined the daily newspapers earlier.
Taylor entered the SCG gates determined to justify his selection and was not amused by a big banner in the Hill area: “Aussie selectors couldn’t pick Bill Lawry’s nose”. Australia was struggling at 7-232 with only three minutes to go on the opening day and the new ball just taken when in came Taylor to bat. He survived and added 39 runs with Dean Jones (184 not out) the next morning as Australia totalled 343. England replied with 275, Taylor silencing his critics with a 6 for 78 haul – including the prize scalps of Alan Lamb, David Gower and Ian Botham.
In the second innings, Taylor (42) added 98 runs with Steve Waugh and the visitors were challenged to make 320 in 114 overs. They lost 5 for 102, man of the match Peter Taylor dismissing Lamb and Botham off successive deliveries. The hat-trick was averted but the Test came alive as skipper Mike Gatting played aggressively and England was 5 for 230. With 90 runs needed in 20 overs, Waugh affected a breakthrough by dismissing Gatting for 96. Then the spinning Peters (Sleep and Taylor) combined to grab the last four wickets for seven runs in eleven spine-tingling minutes with only one over to spare.
1999: MacGill magic
England’s shock 12 run victory in the previous Melbourne Test had set the Ashes ablaze and galvanized spectator interest in early 1999.
Mark ‘Tubby’ Taylor became the first Australian captain to win all tosses in a 5-Test series since Lindsay Hassett in 1953.
Fast medium bowler Darren Gough became the first and only Englishman to perform a hat-trick in an Ashes Test in the 20th century. The underrated Stuart MacGill captured 12 for 107, the best Test figures on the SCG since Australian Charlie Turner’s 12 for 87 against England way back in February 1888.
The adventurous opening batsman Michael Slater slammed 123 runs out of Australia’s 184, which was 66.84 per cent of the team total, only fractionally behind Charles Bannerman’s 67.34 per cent domination in the inaugural Test in Melbourne in March 1877.
Playing his farewell Test, Mark Taylor took his 157th catch to eclipse Allan Border’s record in 52 fewer Tests. Mark Waugh held his 100th catch in Test cricket and Glenn McGrath his 200th Test wicket.
The Test fluctuated wildly. Australia was on top at 5 for 319 (Mark Waugh 121, Steve Waugh 96) minutes before stumps on the opening day. But they lost their last five wickets in 15 minutes as Gough took that hat-trick.
MacGill outshone Shane Warne as he usually did when the two master leg-spinners performed in pair. He took 5 for 57 against Warne’s 1 for 67 and England was bowled out for 220, a deficit of 102.
There was another twist on the third day as Australia collapsed for 184 despite Slater’s defiant century, Dean Headley and Peter Such being the destroyers. Needing 287 to win, England was cruising at 2 for 104. To make 183 more runs in two days with eight wickets in hand was an achievable target.
But man of the match MacGill had different ideas. The visitors lost their last seven wickets for 84 measly runs as the MacGill magic captured 7 for 50. Australia won by 98 runs and retained the Ashes 3-1. The MacGill Magic makes this one of the most thrilling SCG tests ever.
2003: Steve’s century stops a nation
Many had predicted the Sydney Ashes Test of January 2003 to be Steve Waugh’s swan-song. But his epic last ball century on the second day not only prolonged his career by a year but stopped the nation. It was a moment of drama when strong men shed tears of joy.
The final Test was not a thriller as England won comfortably after losing the Ashes 0-4. But the final over of the second day was right out of a soap opera when Steve needed five runs for his century off Richard Dawson. The first three were dot balls but Steve took three runs off the fourth. Adam Gilchrist engineered a single from the next ball.
Ultimately it came down to two runs: two runs needed for Steve’s ton off the last ball of the day. England made him wait, making psychological field changes. In a blur, Steve drove the ball to the off for a four and reached his hundred as fans screamed in ecstasy.
It’s a moment that’s gone down in folklore. It produced a roar that cricket historian David Frith wrote he had not heard in Sydney in his 52 years of reporting. Patrons in pubs were chanting Steve’s name hours after his epic hundred. Definitely one of the most thrilling SCG tests, you’ll agree.
In the lead up to the next Test at the SCG, Australia has already won the recent three-Test series against Pakistan 2-0. Yet, the final Test in Sydney starting on Wednesday 3 January 2024 is full of interest, as Pakistan is known for creating upsets.
Will the January 2024 Test be another thriller? We’ll soon find out.