First Tests reflect on the brilliance of backyard cricket in Australia

      The purists say Lord's is the home of cricket, but others say that the MCG (Australia's Melbourne Cricket Ground) is the most hallowed cricket ground in the sport's history, but for ABC broadcaster and journalist Steve Cannane, the Australian backyard has always served as the making or the breaking of a potential cricketer. In his latest book titled First Tests, Cannane reflects on the joys of backyard cricket through the memories of Australia's greatest cricketers, but at the same laments about its demise because of the emergence of big building blocks. "In our capital cities, big blocks are disappearing. McMansions are eating up open space. Back lanes are cordoned off. Backyards are being blitzed," The Courier Mail quotes Cannane, as saying. He also contends that "with the demise of the suburban back yard, we're witnessing the beginning of the end of Australia's cricket dominance". In his book, Cannane recalls Victor Trumper making his first elegant batting strokes in the disease-ridden, sewage-rank streets of late-1800s Surry Hills. The great leg spinner Clarrie Grimmett had one regular backyard practice partner, a black and white fox terrier named Joe, trained to lie down by the wicket for the duration of an over then fetch the eight balls on Grimmett's command. Richie Benaud's first bat was improvised from a piece of packing-case timber, which he swung alone in a disused storeroom at the school his father, Lou, taught at. Greg Chappell says: "the toughest cricket I played was in the back yard against my older brother. After playing in the back yard against Ian, Test cricket was a breeze". Hazards for the Chappells, Cannane explains, included a hump in the pitch that made for extra bounce. Neighbours' windows were protected by wire mesh fixed to the fence. "Our back yard was like Stalag 17," recalls Chappell. One particularly ugly backyard Test ended with Trevor Chappell chasing brother Greg down the street with an axe. This sort of high-stakes backyard warfare is an essential growth experience for any Australian. Doug Walters played on an ant-bed pitch, which made the volatile pitches of India and Sri Lanka look like bowling greens. His wickets were a kerosene tin. Dennis Lillee's freakish bowling skills were formed on a sandy backyard strip covered in lino. But if one had to single out a back yard worthy of heritage listing - and perhaps the most hallowed ground in cricket history - it would be 56 Picnic Point Rd, Panania, southwest Sydney, the boyhood home of Steve and Mark Waugh. The Waughs played on a concrete driveway that sloped down towards the batter, giving the bowler added pace in his delivery. The Waugh wickets were an entire garage door, no doubt the key behind Steve Waugh's near-impenetrable defensive technique. The clothesline on the full was out. Scooters and toys acted as strategically-placed fielders. It was here that Mark Waugh, accounting for the sharp sideways movement from the pitch, developed his trademark midwicket flick off the stumps. When the game was over, Steve would throw a ball in one of his mother Bev's stockings and sling it around a beam in the garage for batting practice. Come game time, head-hunting bouncers were the stock-standard delivery. It was bloody. It was brilliant. It was the back yard. But nothing lasts forever. The Waugh boys moved on to the Sydney Cricket Ground and then around the world, smashing tonnes on the truest and the deadliest pitches on earth. The garage at 56 Picnic Point Rd, Panania, meanwhile, has since been demolished. In its place is a swimming pool.

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