"WINNING THAT GAVE US A REAL FILLIP"
The golden sunshine, the cracks in the pitch that any fast bowler craves, the sea breeze known locally as the Fremantle Doctor, the ball flying through to the wicketkeeper, gloves pointing to the azure sky – a Test match at Perth is like nowhere else on earth.
England’s Test record at Perth isn’t rosy, but David Gower remembers one win in 1978/79 fondly (against an Australia weakened by World Series Cricket defections). He he made 102 with what Wisden called “youthful genius”. “I am still very proud of it,” says Gower. “It was my first hundred against Australia, and on my first Ashes tour. Australia may have been weaker overall, but Rodney Hogg was no mug. In short bursts he was as quick as anyone wearing a Baggy Green that I faced.”
England returned the following year, after a truce was signed between Kerry Packer and the cricketing Establishment. The Perth Test was perhaps most memorable for Lillee’s use of an aluminium bat. ”We were hammered, but very cleverly the Ashes were not up for grabs,” smiles Gower.
Gower began the 1982/83 Ashes in a blaze of glory, making a sumptuous 72 before John Dyson took a terrific catch at square-leg. “That was a really flat deck, but with a bit of pace, and my best innings at Perth,” says Gower. “Physically and mentally that was the best I ever felt, so I was disappointed not to go on.”
Four years later, Mike Gatting’s side – famously panned by The Independent’s Martin Johnson as having “only three things wrong with them: they can’t bat, they can’t bowl and they can’t field” – won the Ashes 2-1, though with a draw at Perth (after which England have lost seven straight Tests there). England also memorably won that tour’s Perth one-day Challenge against Australia, West Indies and Pakistan. “A unique tournament,” says Gower. “Winning that gave us a real fillip. We went from no-hopers to winning everything on that trip, and that Perth Challenge was a part of it.”
Gower’s 1990/91 trip is best remembered for him and John Morris hiring a Tiger Moth biplane during a tour match against Queensland. England, led by Graham Gooch, were thumped 3-0 in the Ashes. In the final Test at the WACA, they slumped from 191 for two to 244 all out, with Gower stranded unbeaten on 28. “That tour contained the sublime and the ridiculous. I had some satisfying personal performances but I had my differences with Graham, starting with the Tiger Moth incident.
"Overall I loved playing at the WACA, and have played some of my best cricket there. It was the place I scored my first hundred against Australia so it’s a special ground for me. It is also the smallest ground of the Australian Test venues, which gives it a great-yet- intimate atmosphere."
Gower’s soft spot for Western Australia developed as a young cricketer when he spent four months living in Perth and travelling the state. He played for Claremont Cottosloe Cricket Club, and spent many happy days on Cottosloe Beach, with its “white sand and lovely warm Indian Ocean.”
“I have had some good nights out at Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle. It’s fun down there, a lively, vibrant spot.”
“There seem to be a million great places for this in Western Australia. Perth is a superb place to eat and drink. They have fantastic seafood. Coco’s in South Perth is a favourite of mine. It has a gorgeous view of the Swan River, with people sailing and dinghy racing. For wine, Leeuwin Estate is a family-run place which makes a gorgeous drop. The Swan Valley is also a short drive from Perth, and has some great labels. Sandalfords is one of the best I have tried.”