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My First Test: Australia v India, MCG, February, 1948

From the Members Tuesday DEC 29

By Bob Utber

I will never forget my first visit to the MCG, the day which gave birth to my love of cricket, and a passion that has lasted a lifetime.

It was a Saturday just after school had gone back in 1948. My Dad, a sports aficionado, prepared me for the day. “We’re going to see Bradman bat,” he said.

We lived in Albion, which in those days was out in the sticks on the fringes of Melbourne’s west. It was the home of workers, and thistles. They were everywhere. We lived behind the butcher’s shop that Dad owned with his brother-in-law, not far from my primary school. The shop still stands on Ballarat Road.

That February morning, Mum cut the sandwiches for Dad and me and of course we had a thermos of tea and some fruit cake that she’d made. All this was put into Dad’s Gladstone bag along with jumpers. Water was not a necessity in those days.

I even remember what I wore. Short pants (not shorts), collar and tie, long socks and of course those caps. They were ridiculous those caps when I look back. They certainly did not keep the sun from hitting you.

The train came from the next station up, St Albans, the last on the line. I remember anxiously asking Dad if we could get to the station. In those days the Test matches commenced at 11 a.m.

Bradman was not out on 57 overnight, but had twinged a hamstring slightly. The talk was that he was likely to bat anyway.

We had seats six rows from the front in the enormous Southern Stand. A goodly crowd was in to see Bradman bat because it was already intimated that this would be his last game at the MCG and the 1948 team for England was about to be picked. This was the last chance for many players. We would also see the ‘speed demon’ Ray Lindwall in action.

Bradman jogged out on the ground before play in his creams. Turned at about 20 yards from the gate and walked of. He was to retire hurt for the only time in his career.

You can imagine how this young boy of eight felt; the sheer disappointment that we would not see him bat.

That disappointment was soon forgotten when I saw the young 18-year-old Neil Harvey come out to bat. Harvey had done very well for Victoria and the Australian selectors were looking for a middle order batsman to follow Don Bradman, Lindsay Hassett and Keith Miller - and he was a left-hander to boot.

Oh, how he struck the ball. Small, lithe with slick black hair he was about Bradman’s size in stature. He scored a wonderful century, 153, in no time, the first of many centuries at the MCG. The fluency of his strokes remains with me now, and of course his fielding in the covers.

The Indians were making their first tour of Australia. They had struggled in earlier matches and were really out of their depth. For me, seeing dark-skinned men from another country playing cricket was also a highlight. I had never seen dark men before.

The other innings I remember came from S.J.E. ‘Sam’ Loxton. Funnily those initials have stuck with me all my life. Sam was a swashbuckling player from Prahran and this innings of 80 cemented his place in the side for England. He made. He was the third of the all-rounders after Miller and Lindwall.

Australia finished their innings late into the afternoon of the second day and India came to the crease. I would see Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller bowl, the two ex-servicemen from World War II.

Lindwall was to be my greatest memory of the day. Two things, the wonderful rhythmic run-up and the speed in which the ball left his hand. One can only guess the pace at which he bowled which I found amazing for such a short player.

Don Tallon the wicketkeeper stood at least 25 yards back behind the stumps and the slips (led by Miller) even further.

Coming in from the southern end Lindwall bowled a ball to Sarwate that hit the middle stump and sent it cartwheeling back behind the keeper. The ball must have just hit the right spot on the stump but I have heard that he had the ability to do this regularly in any form of cricket.

Looking back over 72 years of watching Test cricket at the ground these memories are still my fondest and I delight in saying to anyone under 60 years of age – “I saw Bradman” and leave it at that.

I have always had a soft spot for Indian cricket. This Test match at the MCG, against the Indians, reminds me of that wonderful day in the Fifth Test of the 1947-48 series.

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Bob Utber

‘Citrus’ Bob Utber has been a member of the MCC for more than 30 years and it his place of pilgrimage every year. He has been writing sport, mostly honorary, for more than 50 years - firstly with The Pakenham Gazette and in recent years for The Footy Almanac.