Alison Mitchell, inspired by the emergence of a fans’ favourite in Sydney, looks back at others who won the crowd’s affection
The recent Test series between Australia and Pakistan offered many moments and feats to savour.
There was Pakistan getting to the brink of what would have been a record breaking run chase in Brisbane; Azhar Ali becoming the first Pakistan batsman to score a double hundred on Australian soil at the MCG; David Warner crashing a century before lunch on the opening day in Sydney; the great warrior Younis Khan completing his career CV with a first Test century in Australia; maiden hundreds
for new kids Peter Handscomb and the ever-grinning Matt Renshaw; and 441 runs in the series for captain Steve Smith, who joined an elite club of players to have a Test average of more than 60 after playing 50 Tests.
Those were just the cricketing achievements. Looking back, this was also a series for the fans. Some of the most endearing and memorable moments came from a crowd and a public who engaged with Test cricket in a way that is only possible though the narratives that evolve over the course of a series.
It started in Brisbane with ‘The Garrys’, a Nathan Lyon fan club borne out of Matt Wade’s unmistakable calls of “niiice, Garry!” from behind the stumps every time Lyon bowled a ball (the nickname stems from Garry Lyon, a famous Australian footballer).
It ended, gloriously, with an unknown substitute fielder who appeared on the final afternoon at the SCG with a shock of long, curly blond locks billowing out from beneath his Baggy Green. Amidst a carnival atmosphere, this tall and gangly 22 year old instantly gained cult status with fans who had taken advantage of the $1 or $2 dollar charity entry to see Australia surge to victory on day five.
The fielder’s name was Mickey Edwards and no one in the ABC commentary box had noticed him creep onto the field for David Warner. I was on air as Sarfraz Ahmed defended into the offside and Edwards fielded the ball. “Sarfraz defends, out towards point, and it’s picked up by.…. wow, WHO’S THAT?!” I exclaimed, echoing the thoughts of 17,000 inside the SCG.
The big screen duly obliged by flashing his name up in big letters and showing a close-up of a shaggy blond mop framing a slightly bemused looking face. Cue wild cheers from the crowd. Edwards could have just stepped out of the surf at Bondi or he could have arrived from the Nineties. He was actually a fast bowler from Manly-Warringah CC and a member of the Sydney Sixers Academy squad who had been out of the game for several months with stress fractures.
He was only ever expecting to be carrying drinks. Either way, move over Garry; the crowd had a new cult hero.
Every time Edwards fielded the ball the crowd responded. Lyon started playing up to it himself by deliberately tossing the ball to Edwards before bowling. All Edwards needed to do was touch the ball to get a cheer.
The youngster unwittingly played his part, doubling over and furiously shining the ball on the back of his thigh whenever the quicks were on. It was an exaggerated shining technique, which only fuelled the crowd more.
With Australia on the brink of victory on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the players lapped up the high jinx and hilarity. Who could blame them when, only a few weeks earlier, they had borne the brunt of abuse and criticism after their abysmal defeat to South Africa.
The cult around Nathan Lyon first took off at the Gabba. A group of supporters carried giant size cardboard cut-outs of Lyon’s face and donned white T-shirts spelling out the name Garry (there were actually too many of them, so it became Garrry).
By the time the Boxing Day Test began a social media campaign had taken off encouraging the entire crowd to shout “niice, Garry” after the third ball of Lyon’s first spell in the match. The moment drew near, Lyon was tossed the ball and after two deliveries the majority of the 63,000 in the ‘G’ got to their feet in anticipation. The stage was set, the audience was ready and a slow handclap began to gather pace. Lyon bowled to Sami Aslam, who edged to slip – and was out! Far from shouting “niiice Gary” the crowd went absolutely berserk. It was an instant of pure, delirious theatre for those who were in on the gag.
There were other moments that elicited a social media meltdown including Usman Khawaja celebrating his half century in Sydney with a brief ‘dab’, the dance move which originated in the hip-hop music scene but emerged on the professional sport scene a couple of years ago in American Football.
The phenomenon has gradually spread overseas and has been seen in the Premier League now as well.
Cricket has had its fair share of cult heroes and individuals who have stood out from the crowd. The moustachioed Australian Merv Hughes was a particular favourite of mine and was popular with the mob in Bay 13 at the MCG, who famously copied his stretches on mass behind him when he was warming up to bowl.
Big Merv was broody, hairy, and lippy, but he bowled fast. He also cared so much about Australia winning, that even when he had taken 13 wickets, including a hat-trick, in an energy-sapping Test against the West Indies at Perth 1988, he broke down at the pain of the eventual defeat. He was a big man with a big moustache and a big mouth, but he had an even bigger heart.
When England’s left-arm spinner Monty Panesar came onto the Test scene his wicket-taking ability coupled with his hapless fielding made him an instant hit.
His first wicket in Test cricket was Sachin Tendulkar, yet he also dropped an absolute sitter at long-off. The masses warmed to his brilliance yet also to his plight. Before long, Monty Mania had taken off. Fans would turn up to matches wearing fake beards and black patkas in tribute to the so-called Sikh of Tweak.
Panesar’s club, Northamptonshire, even started selling branded ‘Monty Patkas’. He was the biggest left-arm spinning hero for England since the closure of The Phil Tufnell School of Fielding.
For his part, Edwards had been reluctant to even take the field at the SCG as the stress fractures meant he had hadn’t played for three months. Somewhat appropriately, given his throwback surfer dude appearance, he was supposed to be working at men’s swimwear store Budgie Smuggler when pressed into action.
He stood on the outfield hoping the ball wouldn’t come to him, but ended up, like a rock star, obliging autograph hunters at the close. He admitted to stealing his Test shirt as a souvenir and conceded in a live interview that his long hair is a real “pain in the arse”. He won’t be cutting it any time soon, though.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, January 13 2017
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