For most of last night the big crowd was evenhanded in its treatment of the old rivals, Australia and England, playing the opening match of the World Championship of Cricket.
The former Australian captain Kim Hughes got an enormous ovation when he came in at first wicket down for Australia. It lasted from the time his name was announced until he faced the bowling. He went for a duck, run out while taking a run from the third ball.
But the crowd was generous also with England’s slips fieldsman Mike Gatting who, a few minutes earlier, had dismissed Kepler Wessels with a diving catch. It brought them to their feet cheering.
The most partisan outburst was directed at the Premier, Mr Cain, who was booed and cheered as he tried to make a speech.
The booing of Mr Cain began as soon as he mounted a dais outside the members stand during the opening ceremony.
He managed to make himself heard about most of it as he talked of how the MCG had been upgraded and 17 February was a landmark in sporting history. Suddenly he was drowned out by a bellow of “boring … bore” which seemed to start on the opposite side of the ground near the anarchists of Bay 13. It spread quickly to other areas, including the members.
Mr Cain, showing no sign that he was perturbed in front of this vast crowd, finished his speech within seconds. The crowd’s hostility was an ironic gesture towards the man who more than any other kept the MCG for the VFL Grand Final and gave it the lights that made yesterday’s match possible.
Mr Cain was followed on the dais by that veteran of the sporting crowd’s acclaim, Mr Robert Hawke, Prime Minister. What would this crowd do to him we all wondered? Is Bay 13 depressed about the MX missile?
We need not have wondered. Mr Hawke knows a sticky wicket when he sees one. As angry began, he went straight into the attack, speaking so fast that dissenters had no choice but to sit and listen. Every Hawke sentence ran into the next.
Mr Hawke got all his thankyous out of the way and then went for the big hit. “You are the greatest cricket audience in the world,” he said. Cheers broke out all over the place. Mr Hawke allowed perhaps two seconds to elapse then said humorously, “Now, you can’t boo that, can you?”
Lined up on the area listening to the speeches were five of the seven teams taking part in the World Championship of Cricket who had paraded around the ground earlier.
The crowd was benign to all of them except England. Here was the first occasion this season on which Bay 13 and the area around it had glimpsed the auld enemy. Bay 13 rose to the occasion. The booing was splendid.