A lifetime of Gabba memories

Over Casey's Gabba Journey he has met some great and some real cricket super stars. Casey (r) is pictured with Alan Davidson (l), Sir Garfield Sobers and former Secretary Manager of Queensland Cricket and the Queensland Cricketers club, Lew Cooper.

By Casey O'Connor

As the T20 World Cup drew to a close recently my thoughts turned to the first Test at the Gabba, beginning December 17.

As a cricket tragic, The Brisbane Cricket Ground, aka The Gabba is undoubtedly my “happy place” and has been for many decades.

My earliest recollections of the ground are as a 10-year-old wide-eyed, cricket-mad country kid.

For the kid from Ballandean (outside Stanthorpe) the opportunity to share a trip to “the Gabba” with my father and a couple of his friends and a mate was monumental.

A trip from Ballandean to Brisbane in 1960 was a long way from the pleasant drive down the range it is today and took quite a bit of planning before you even got to the city and the hustle and bustle of the Fiveways at Woolloongabba.

Little did I know that I would see one of the greatest ever Test games and that it would be the start of a lifetime of cricket memories at the Gabba.

The 1960 Test was of the famous tied-test against the West Indies.

To a cricket loving kid from the bush and his best mate Errol McCosker it was simply amazing. The excitement of the finish, the colour, the theatre and of course the amazing talent of both the Aussies and the Windies had us spellbound. I was hooked on Test Cricket and the Gabba.

There was another memorable trip to the Gabba as a kid a few years later. The 1962/63 series against England. It was during that game that Australian left arm quick Ian Meckiff was controversially called for throwing. My memory and the enormity of that incident has never faded.

The first day of the first Test at the Gabba was traditionally the day country people went to the cricket.

In those days and for many years until the ground was upgraded, it was a tradition to meet your mates at the “fig tree” on the eastern side of the ground(School side) before heading off for a yarn and a quiet drink. I don’t recall how big that fig tree was, but it must have been pretty big because everyone knew it and planned to meet there.

Years later in 1970, I was back at the Gabba, a 20-year-old larrakin, with a bus load of mates from Stanthorpe. I just may have been the bloke who after a day on the hill in the hot sun, having consumed a few ales, wandered out onto the ground with the crowd (as you did back in those days) when play was interrupted due to poor light and grabbed a stump from under the nose of the Umpire and bolted.

I was a pretty fit and quick and made my escape to the boundary with a couple of burly police sergeants (complete with pith helmets) in pursuit. I would have been home free had it not been for the little bloke in a towelling hat who grabbed my leg as I hurdled the fence and held onto it until the constabulary arrived amid the jeers of the crowd.

I was marched across the ground and straight to the cubby hole office of the Secretary Manager of Queensland Cricket, former Queensland keeper, Lew Cooper.

While my stunned mates, figuring I would be locked up, did a whip around to come up with enough money to bail me out, my fate was in Lew Cooper’s hands.

He ejected the police, reminding them that the Trust was in charge of the Gabba, and he and the Chairman of the Trust would determine my punishment. He dispatched the press and settled the gentlemen in suits who were baying for blood, retrieved the stump, established I was a young lad from the bush having a day out, had not done anyone any harm, and promptly bought me a beer.

It was the start of a friendship that was to last until Lew’s death a few years ago and he years later he returned that stump to me.

The whole thing did not go unnoticed on the evening news or in the press the next day. It made the front page and back page of the Courier Mail and the Sydney papers. Pope Paul was visiting Australia at the time and my hijinks relegated the Pope to page three –something that did not sit well in an Irish Catholic household, my Mother less than impressed.

Since that time, I have rarely missed the first day of a Gabba Test match and have watched the Gabba transformed over the years. There have been several of alliterations of the Gabba on its journey to the ground it is today.

I recall when the Greyhound track was installed in 1972 many traditionalists thought the sky would fall and the playing surface would be ruined. It certainly didn’t seem to bother Lillee, Thommo, the Chappell brothers and those amazing West Indian players.

While one Test series blends into another and another and likewise Pre-Test breakfasts at the Gabba there are some that are burned into the memory.

Like the performances of a very young and relatively unknow Jeff Thompson in 1974 against the Poms.

Thommo in full flight ripped through the top order in their first innings and broke Dennis Amiss’ thumb. Not done with, in the second innings he clean-bowled four batsmen. They knew all about Thommo after that.

The Dog track eventually went, and AFL arrived as the Brisbane Bears made the Gabba home. More outcry. The pitch would be destroyed. Work began soon after to transform the ground into a stadium. Over the next few years, the death of the famous Gabba Hill (another popular meeting place) and the loss of the old scoreboard were mourned by many.

I clearly remember how grim things were when the old Cricketers Club was torn down and eventually relocated to its current home. No longer could players in the centre hear Lew Cooper’s booming voice over the Club PA announcing No79’s steak was ready or that there was a problem with the ladies’ loo. Despite the dire predictions, the wicket was better than ever and the new location of the Cricketers’ Club, the other side of the wicket is a great place to watch the game. But a word of warning be early if you want a seat inside at the glass windows and reasonably close to the bar.

I have been very fortunate to be at the ground to watch many memorable Australian wins and met many former great players and great characters of the game. Even had a trip to the commentary box with all the usual suspects.

If I had to choose a few of the most memorable performances I’ve seen I would have to include Matt Hayden’s 2002 innings. His first innings score of 197 and second innings 103 included 38 fours and three sixes. I think it is still the most runs by an Aussie at the Gabba.

In 1994 I watched as Ian Healy took five catches in the first innings dismissing five top-order Pommie batsmen and backed up with four more wickets in the second innings. Heals added 45 crucial runs with the bat. Since then, I have become quite good friends with the former gloveman, touring and rooming with him on several occasion during the Queensland Wanderers annual country Qld tours.

Who could forget in that same game the performance of S K Warne – his first Test back in Australia after the “ball of the century” bewitched Gatting in 1994. His figures at the Gabba in that test 11/110. (3/39 and 8/71). Warnie had arrived.

I was there for that memorable first delivery Steve Harmison bowled to Justin Langer in 2006 which set the tone for the remainder of the game and the series. One delivery wrecked his career. The Gabba got him.

I haven’t even mentioned the most graceful of all batsmen, Greg Chappell or the Gabba performances of Ricky Ponting, or Michael Clarke’s score of 259 in 2012 against Sth Africa and so many other outstanding batting performances. Great bowlers like Mitch Johnson, Glen McGrath and Warnie was simply like a kid in a candy shop when he played the first Test’s at the Gabba. Beefy Botham, Sir Richard Hadlee and the amazing West Indian in the 80’s – the Gabba and I have witnessed a lot and I am most grateful.

With the first against South Africa the Test around the corner, my tickets are booked, and I’ll be nice and early to grab once of those great seats inside the Cricketers Club.

Once again there will be an air doom and gloom from some about the impact of the proposed Gabba upgrade for the 2032 Olympics. I reckon the Gabba will be just fine. Still the best place in Australian to start a Test Series and a great place to accumulate a lifetime of cricket memories.

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