"I JUST LEANT ON MY BAT AND LET RICKY TAKE CARE OF IT!"
Justin Langer is another Perth boy, who graduated from watching Dennis Lillee and Kim Hughes from the “white picket-fences” to fending off the quicks out in the middle. “Perth is one of the windiest cities in the world,” he says. “The Fremantle Doctor has a tremendous impact. If you’re batting at the Prindiville Stand End when the fast bowler has the sea breeze behind him, you feel tiny. But at the Members End, you feel like a giant.
“Another of the intricacies of the WACA is that the ground is like cement. So you really do get these cracks forming down the wicket. I think psychologically it has a huge impact on visiting batsmen.
“Alex Tudor had a terrible blow from Brett Lee there in 2002/03. I think when Mitchell Johnson bowled that spell at Perth in 2013/14 a couple of balls hit the cracks and deviated. But I don’t recall more batsmen being hit there than any other ground; often the ball would sail over the batsman’s head if the bowler was lulled into bowling too short.
“Glenn McGrath always took the end with the wind behind his back. A good swing bowler at the Members End is crucial; Damien Fleming took five wickets in the first innings against England in 1998/99.”
That sensation was perhaps at its most extreme in Langer’s debut series in 1992/93, when the great Antiguan giant Curtly Ambrose wrecked Australia’s batting with an unforgettable spell of seven for one. “The game before at Adelaide we had lost by one run, and I remember seeing [captain] Allan Border distraught after Perth,” says Langer. “He hadn’t beaten West Indies in a series, and I think he realised he never would. After that game I didn’t lose a Test at Perth.”
Fast bowlers have been known to fall into the trap of pitching it too short, so seductive is the bounce. Langer made two big Test hundreds at the WACA – both against Pakistan. “I was at the other end in 1999/2000 when Shoaib Akhtar bowled at Ricky Ponting one of the fastest overs ever recorded [one delivery was clocked at 94mph]. I think we could have taken a single on a few occasions, because the keeper Moin Khan was taking the ball so far back from the stumps. I just leant on my bat and let Ricky take care of it!”
“Quite often an off-spinner is useful into the breeze at Perth, because they get more bounce and perhaps had more control. Leggies tended to struggle a bit more. Even the great Shane Warne – the WACA was his least successful ground [he took 37 wickets at 36, against an overall Test average of 25.41].
“Four years later I made 191 against Pakistan. I was very lucky to have Adam Gilchrist at the other end. We seemed to complement each other well. And the field was like an ice-skating rink against those fast bowlers. The ball just flew away.
“I think we had the wood over most sides at the WACA, not just England. Subcontinental sides found it very hard to come and adapt their games to the pace and bounce. We lost the first Test I played there, in 1993, to that great West Indian attack. The game before at Adelaide we had lost by one run, and I remember seeing Allan Border so distraught after that. He hadn’t beaten West Indies throughout his career, and I think he knew he never would. After that I didn’t lose a Test at Perth.
The hardcore cricket fan might want to seek out a Perth club match. Justin Langer – gritty opening batsman in the all-conquering Australia side of the late 1990s and early 2000s – recalls a time when the grade finals were held at the famous WACA ground. “When I was younger the playing area was a lot bigger at the WACA, and they used to play two games of cricket next to each other. You’d quite often see that in Perth. At Scarborough, my club, they play two matches next to each other, and have staged the club final before.” For many Australians, sampling the local food and drink is a more homespun pleasure. Langer spent his childhood fishing down the coast south of Perth. “My favourite place in all of Australia is Mandurah, because I just have so many happy childhood memories of going down there,” he says. “I learned to fish there when I was young. I have a place down there now. And even now I go fishing or crabbing on a jetty out my backyard. Washed down with a glass of wine or beer – you can’t beat it.”