South Australian Cricket Association History

The crack of leather on willow. It’s hard to imagine life without the iconic, uplifting sound.

Cricket. The South Australian Cricket Association. Adelaide Oval. They have been integral parts of everyday life in SA from the early days of colonial settlement.

It may have been a long way from the green and lush playing fields of Britain but, despite the searing heat of summer, the dust and the flies Down Under, playing the noble English game was a powerful reminder of home.

How the early settlers who brought cricket to Adelaide would gaze in wonder if they were able to see a night Test match in front of a bumper 50,000 crowd at Adelaide Oval in the 21st century. The pink ball, the drama and fanfare, the passionate, chanting fans, particularly if it’s an Ashes clash, the beautiful green turf, more like the old days in England. But, still, the sound of leather on willow. The thrill of the contest between fit, competitive and highly-skilled youngsters proudly representing their local community, or their country.

While iconic Adelaide Oval’s modern stands to the south, west and east are everything – and more – today’s sports fans could wish for, there’s so much about the venue that would remind the game’s pioneers of the way we were. 

Still standing majestically to the north is imposing St Peter’s Cathedral, founded in 1869 and a perpetual backdrop to arguably the most picturesque sporting ground in the world. The row of magnificent Moreton Bay fig trees that date back to the early days of the Oval continue to provide shade for fans of the game, enhancing the stunning vista of what remains an oval, rather than a soulless modern-day stadium. Former England captain Graham Gooch, noting many grounds world-wide had lost their charm as they were modernised and redeveloped, told SACA president Andrew Sinclair in 2014: “You must be so very proud. You have retained the Adelaide Oval feel. It’s still a beautiful cricket ground.”

The much-loved northern outer and hill leads to the grand old scoreboard, built in 1911 and still displaying all the facts and figures cricket enthusiasts thrive on. Its character and charm are unique, so much so it invariably is the highlight of the Adelaide Oval tour sports lovers from all over the world enjoy today. There’s nothing digital in the heritage-listed, manually-operated scoreboard, no easy buttons to push or switches to flick to make numbers magically appear. Instead, there are a series of levers and pulleys, with players’ names made up on large metal plates and lifted into place by hand.

Adding to the ambiance and historic appeal of the Oval are the ivy vines on the western stands, just like we’ve all seen in old black-and-white photos of SA’s Sheffield Shield-winning sides from the halcyon days of the 1960s and ’70s. The stand itself has been built using the shell of the old grandstand and the facade for the dressing rooms is a carbon copy of what we have become accustomed to over many decades.

SACA 150 Years

History is something we cherish about the grand game of cricket. And don’t we love looking back at the cavalcade of champions who have enthralled Adelaide Oval crowds with their flair and skill, their dogged determination and ability to thrill and entertain? Playing for South Australia and Australia on our Oval have been the likes of George Giffen, Clem Hill, Vic Richardson, Don Bradman, Clarrie Grimmett, Ian and Greg Chappell, through to modern SA icons Darren Lehmann and Jason Gillespie, or Boof and Dizzy as they are best known to their legion of fans. Legendary Victor Trumper, Richie Benaud, Dennis Lillee, Allan Border and Ricky Ponting have worn the baggy green with pride on our Oval. And international superstars like WG Grace, Freddie Trueman, Garry Sobers, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar have graced the ground which hosted its first Test match 140 years ago. Matchwinning West Indies allrounder Sobers also helped SA to Sheffield Shield glory.

And there’s been plenty of magic moments. Shane Warne and Mitchell Johnson bowling the Aussies to famous Ashes triumphs, our own Greg Blewett’s century on Test debut against England in 1994-95.

There was charismatic David Hookes’ five centuries in six slashing innings to kick off his career and his world-record ton from 34 balls against Victoria. While Hookesy’s arrival at Adelaide Oval filled a generation with pride and hope, his premature send-off was dramatic and moving. After his shocking death in 2004 thousands filed solemnly into the famous old ground for Hookes’ emotion-charged funeral. The iconic Gray-Nicolls Hurricane scoop bat leaning against the stumps is an image that still brings a tear to the eye.

SA’s unforgettable Sheffield Shield triumph of 1995-96 proved draws can be just as glorious as wins, tailenders Peter McIntyre and Shane George hanging on in a remarkable rearguard fight that brought back memories of Ken Mackay and Lindsay Kline who, surrounded by every West Indian fieldsman, held out for 110 minutes in Australia’s unforgettable Test draw of 1960-61.

And history continues to be made at this ground so steeped in tradition.

There were the record-breaking crowds for Australia’s Test win against England in 2017-18 including a staggering 55,317 on the opening day. And David Warner’s triple-century against Pakistan created history – even Bradman had not reached 300 in a Test match on Adelaide Oval. Although, to be fair, the legend we gladly adopted as a South Aussie and who lived here for 67 years, did make 299 not out – against South Africa back in 1931-32.

Controversy? There’s been plenty of that. The Bodyline series of 1932-33, in which English captain Douglas Jardine hatched a plan to curb Bradman’s dominance, with dangerous short-pitched bowling spearheaded by express paceman Harold Larwood, saw Aussie captain Bill Woodfull hit on the heart and wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield felled by a blow to the head, the seething, bumper crowd on the verge of storming onto the ground in protest.
Sri Lanka’s team was storming off our famous Oval when spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled for chucking, before cool heads prevailed and an unforgettable one-dayer played out against England.

History has been recognised and celebrated at the Oval. If you are heading towards the ground from King William St to the northern end, you pass a statue of the greatest of them all, Bradman. Entry to the members’ area is through the Clarrie Grimmett Gate, then there are statues of Gillespie and Lehmann. Dizzy looks like he is bowling at Boof, who’s thundered another boundary. Next, you come face-to-face with a statue of Giffen. He looks an imposing figure and on the field in the late 1800s he certainly was that, an allrounder who was Australia’s answer to Dr WG. You will pass through the Avenue of Honour, a wonderful walkway of champions and there sure are some champions … David Hookes, Gil Langley, Ashley Mallett, Karen Rolton, Greg Blewett, Andrea McCauley and plenty more. To watch the game, you might be sitting in the Bradman Pavilion or the Chappell Stand. Or, if you’re lucky, you could be enjoying a day’s play from the magnificent Bodyline Bar.

If you enter via the South Gate, Clem Hill’s statue is hard to miss. The famous Victor Richardson Gates have moved from the eastern outer boundary they graced for 40-odd years and they are just around the corner. Inside the gates there’s the Don Bradman Collection, along with myriad iconic photos from Adelaide Oval’s history.

For 153 years the SACA has been bringing all the best in cricket to Adelaide Oval – along with competition for anyone with a passion for the game at countless local and regional grounds. Reaching 150 with the bat in any grade of cricket anywhere is a huge achievement. For a sporting organisation to make such a milestone is a tribute to the outstanding work of countless dedicated, hard-working and talented people. It’s really something to celebrate. 

Right now it is time to remember – and thank – those who called for a meeting on 31 May 1871. They knew cricket needed a controlling body to take charge of the soon-to-be burgeoning sport. They also realised there needed to be a central, fenced, properly-turfed oval to play on. The SACA was formed and cricket was on its way. 

What would those present at the inaugural meeting at Prince Alfred Hotel, next to Adelaide Town Hall, have made of an Adelaide Strikers’ Big Bash League New Year’s Eve clash? The fast and furious action. The phenomenal fielding skills around the boundary rope. The pride and passion of a packed Oval in the electric blue of arguably SA’s most-loved sporting side. The stunning lighting, fireworks and, after the quickfire clash is done and dusted, traditionally with a great Strikers win, a concert for supporters of all ages. Just like a whole new world. But, still, the same old crash of leather on willow.

Talk about a celebration of SA cricket. There’s no doubt the pioneers of the game here would be bristling with pride.

Written by Peter Cornwall for the SACA 150: A Celebration book, released in SACA's 150th year. You can purchase the book here

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