August 16, 2000: When cricket was played indoors for the first time

It was indeed a great spectacle to watch a game of cricket between Australia and South Africa played in the state-of-the-art Melbourne Stadium — indoors © Getty Images

On August 16, 2000, Australia took on South Africa for a day/night One-Day International (ODI) at the Melbourne Stadium in a unique setting. Bharath Ramaraj has more on what was a watershed moment in cricket.
In the wonderful world of cricket, a high-voltage clash between arch-rivals attracts large crowds and rekindles the flames of passion for the game among cricket lovers. Fans buzzing with sheer excitement make a beeline entry into the stadium. Even in offices, bus stands, or while travelling in a tuk tuk, one is forced to listen to all sorts of expert analysis about the beautiful game.

However, after spending their hard-earned money, if a game of cricket is ruined by bad weather conditions, cricket-obsessed fans would feel crestfallen and heartbroken. A little more than a decade ago, in 2000, Cricket Australia came up with an innovative and novel concept that could withstand harsh weather conditions by playing cricket indoors at the Melbourne Stadium — Docklands. It was also known as Colonial stadium during that time. The three match one-day series played between South Africa and Australia at Melbourne Stadium in 2000 was called as Super Challenge series.

On October 31, 1996, a grand plan was made to replace the Waverley Park with the Docklands Stadium, as headquarters for Australian Rules football. The first-ever Australian Rules football match was played between Port Adelaide and Essendon, before a sizable crowd of 43,012.

In spite of being built mainly for Australian Rules football, over the years, it has hosted rugby games and numerous concerts by world famous artists. Some of the features of the stadium include a retractable roof which is 38 metres above the playing surface, movable seating, two large internal replay screens, external super screen, over 700 2000-watt lights for arena illumination, 66 corporate boxes and varying capacity ranging between 12,000 and 74,000, depending on the event. It’s in this ambience that the stadium hosted the first international cricket match played in indoors between South Africa and Australia.

Shaun Pollock won the toss and elected to field, perhaps unsure how the track at Melbourne Stadium would play. As the game was played in the midst of harsh winter in Australia, not many fans turned up to watch the historic indoor cricket. The crowd finally swelled in number to 25,785. Those 22 cricketers who took the cricket field on that historic day were introduced to the crowd along with a 15-minute sparkling light show.

In the state-of-the-art stadium, the South African battery of pacers sent an early warning to their formidable foes by taking three crucial wickets in the first 12 overs of the match. The first wicket fell due to a sheer brilliant display of athletic fielding by the emperor of the point region, Jonty Rhodes. After playing out couple of tight overs, the wily old fox, Mark Waugh, tried to steal a single off Pollock’s bowling by using his trademark silken-smooth soft-hands to dab the ball around the corner on the off-side.

Unfortunately for Australia, with a tigerish piece of fielding, Rhodes ran the danger man, Adam Gilchrist, out. Actually, as soon as the ball went to Rhodes, one could see a bit of hesitation creeping up between Waugh and Gilchrist. By then though, it was too late and both of them had no other choice, but to bite the bullet and take that risky single on offer.

Waugh was joined in the middle by Ricky Ponting. For a while, Ponting kept the scoreboard ticking with some eye-catching strokes. However, in an attempt to push the scoring-rate, he perished by top-edging a length delivery from Roger Telemachus, straight to the ever-vigilant Rhodes.

At the other end of the spectrum, for once, the Mozart of the willow, Waugh, seemed to be struggling to send the crowd into a tizzy by writing beautiful symphonies with the bat. Most of the shots he attempted were curiously mistimed and finally he got out caught by Nantie Hayward off Telemachus at short fine-leg for a skittish knock of 17. It was a huge wicket for South Africa to take, as during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Waugh was the bedrock of Australia’s top-order in one-day cricket.

Those were the days, when Australian journalists seemed to be hunting down Waugh like a pack of hungry wolves for his perceived lack of form. Interestingly, his run of poor form before the first match of the Super Challenge series against South Africa had extended over a mere five one-day games. He was also haunted by alleged match-fixing and betting allegations. It surely affected his batting.

During the 1996-97 season at Centurion against South Africa, Michael Bevan and Steve Waugh, with equanimity and poise, had anchored a remarkable turnaround to take Australia to a facile win. The 189-run partnership between Bevan and the elder Waugh was also a record for the fourth wicket for Australia at that time.

At the dawn of the new century at Melbourne Stadium, the same pair came together to launch a rescue mission and revive Australia’s stuttering innings by forging a record partnership of 222 runs for the fourth-wicket for Australia. The record was later broken by Andrew Symonds and Ponting in a game against Sri Lanka at Sydney in 2005-06.

At Centurion in 1996-97, cricket pundits bemoaned the fact that heavy dew conditions had played into Australia’s hands. But at Melbourne, 2000, no one could take the credit away from what was a magnificent partnership.

The unique feature of that remarkable partnership between Steve Waugh and Bevan was the glorious exhibition of stealing singles out of nowhere and converting singles into twos as well as twos into threes.

Both Steve Waugh and Bevan ran like jack rabbits between the wickets and even South Africa’s brilliant fielding unit couldn’t stop them from stealing singles under their very noses. On that day, Steve Waugh was just toying with South Africa’s battery of fast-medium bowlers by walking across towards off-stump and flicking the likes of Lance Klusener, Jacques Kallis and Andrew Hall at will.

The heart-stirring partnership also had its fair share of jaw-dropping rapier-like cuts, lissom flicks, rasping drives and crunching lofted shots. In fact, the two strokes essayed by Steve Waugh off Kallis in the 40th over of the match would be etched in the memory of the writer forever.

Steve Waugh made room for himself and gave a mighty wallop to a length delivery from Kallis to smash it over the vacant long-off region. He then followed it up by virtually playing a thunderous slog-sweep of Kallis that rocketed towards the boundary boards. Nowadays, a slog-sweep off a fast-medium bowler is more of a norm, but that was certainly not the case in 2000. It was an innings that showcased the unflinching courage, unbridled passion and indomitable grit of Steve Waugh.

Michael Bevan himself played some wondrous shots. He reserved his best for the tearaway quick from Uitenhage, Hayward, by lofting him straight down the ground with twinkling footwork for a sumptuous boundary.

It was an era when bouncers were barred from being bowled in one-day cricket. To some extent it helped Bevan, as he had problems while facing up to a barrage of bouncers in Test cricket. However, it shouldn’t take anything away from Bevan’s memorable knocks in one-day cricket.

Both made scintillating centuries and took Australia to a mammoth score of 295 runs. With the spearhead of South Africa’s pace attack, Allan Donald rested for the series; the bowling attack seemed to lack that much needed bite. It also has to be said that when Steve Waugh was on 23 and 24, respectively, they missed the chance of running him out. It turned out to be very costly misses indeed.

The match didn’t exactly turn out to be a nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat encounter, as South Africa lost the match by a huge margin of 94 runs. Australia’s formidable bowling line-up made up of Glen McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne kept South African batsmen on a tight leash and never allowed them to break-free.

Yes, Gary Kirsten and Kallis tried to make a good fist of the match. While chasing a target of 296 though, South Africa needed at least two of their batsmen to stand up and make centuries, but that never happened.

The telling difference between Australia’s pace attack and South Africa’s legion of pacers was that Australian quicks tended to concentrate on back of a length bowling and rarely gave the width for South African batsmen to free their arms. They also had the Wizard of Oz, Warne, in their ranks, who with his box of tricks was always going to be a difficult proposition to handle for the leaden-footed South African batsmen.
What followed

Australia couldn’t carry the momentum of winning the first game for the rest of the series. With indefatigable zest and energetic industrious stamina, the battle-hardened cricketers from the Rainbow Nation came back strongly to level the series 1-1. The second game ended in a pulsating tie. It has to be remembered that on paper, Australia in a crystal clear manner was the stronger side of the two.

South African players have to take a lot of credit for the way they passed the litmus test of facing up to Australia with flying colours. Before the series, their players were even traumatised by the match-fixing scandal that had engulfed the South African cricket set-up.

More than anything else, August 16, 2000, would go down into history books as a watershed moment in the world of cricket. For those cricket lovers who thronged the Melbourne Stadium or fans who saw the match on TV, it was indeed a great spectacle to watch a game of cricket played in a state-of-the-art stadium — indoors.

Brief scores:

Australia 295 for 5 in 50 overs (Michael Bevan 106, Steve Waugh 114*) beat South Africa 201 for 7 in 50 overs (Gary Kirsten 43, Jacques Kallis 42; Ian Harvey 3 for 41) by 94 runs.

Man of the Match: Steve Waugh

In pictures: First ever international indoor cricket match

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)