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Few venues in world of sport boast a history as rich — or as tangible — as the Sydney Cricket Ground, a picturesque 48,000-seat venue just east of Sydney’s city centre. The two grand Victorian-era pavilions are an ever-present reminder of the one and a half centuries of sporting history that have unfolded on the SCG turf since it was established as the Garrison Ground in 1848. Over the years, cricket, rugby league, Australian rules, tennis, football, baseball, cycling, rugby union, athletics and even motorsport have all lit up the legendary venue, which has been the epicentre of Sydney’s sporting life since the mid-19th century.
The New South Wales Cricket Association took over control of the ground from the colonial British government in 1875, and in February 1882, the SCG hosted its first cricket Test match between England and Australia in the shadow of the genteel, green-roofed Members’ Stand that’s still going strong today. The SCG has now held 105 Tests (more than any ground in the world besides Lord’s in London and the Melbourne Cricket Ground), 158 limited-overs internationals and countless first-class matches, witnessing some of the greatest players and most memorable moments in cricket history — Sir Donald Bradman’s then-world record 452 not out for NSW against Queensland in 1930, stormy Ashes clashes in 1933 and 1971, the stirring farewell to Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in 2007 and Michael Clarke’s 300 against India in 2012, the only Test triple ton ever compiled at the SCG, coincidentally in the venue’s 100th Test. That cricketing history is ingrained in the place, right down to the names of the grandstands — cricket legends are honoured by the brand new Bradman, MA Noble and Victor Trumper Stands, as well as the ageing Bill O’Reilly Stand.
Despite having the word ‘cricket’ in its name, the SCG holds just as special a place in the history books of rugby league, the dominant football code in Sydney. The Sydney Cricket Ground has hosted more than 1,400 first-grade rugby league games, including 70 internationals and dozens of grand finals until those marquee matches were moved to the Sydney Football Stadium right next door in 1988, a more modern rectangular venue designed for football and the rugby codes. Two World Cup finals, the muddy grand final of 1963 when opposing skippers Norm Provan and Arthur Summons came together to form the code’s most iconic photograph, the astonishing crowd that scaled grandstand roofs to catch the 1965 decider (St George’s record 11th premiership on the trot, if you don’t mind), and some seminal State of Origin battles in the early ‘80s are only a small handful of rugby league highlights the SCG has seen.
Australia’s three other football codes — Australian rules, rugby union and football — all have long histories at the SCG, too. The most famous clash in the Wallabies’ 70-plus rugby union Tests there involved no players but instead came between police and anti-apartheid protestors when the South African Springboks controversially toured Australia in 1971. Aussie rules was played at the ground long before the Sydney Swans were relocated to the Harbour City in 1982 — an inter-colonial game between NSW and Victoria took place in 1881 and top-grade Victorian club matches were shifted north sporadically until the Swans made AFL a more regular presence in the ‘80s. Huge crowds have also flocked to football (or soccer to the non-believers) at the SCG, including a visit from English club Everton in 1964.
The Sydney Cricket Ground’s sporting CV gets even weirder when you delve deep into the history books. The SCG hosted inter-colonial tennis matches in the late 19th century, Scottish Highland Games in 1880, cycling events until the bike track around the perimeter of the ground was removed in 1920, the 1938 British Empire Games and even the first motor race ever held in Australia, when seven nutters zipped around the cycle track on motorised tricycles. And one of the most remarkable chapters in the SCG’s history was written in March 2014, when the Major League Baseball season opened with two games between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the hallowed Australia turf.
No matter how much of the stadium is redeveloped, the Sydney Cricket Ground’s preservation of those historic Victorian pavilions retains the soul of the place, as do the 11 statues of legends representing the various sports that have illuminated the SCG over the centuries, such as cricketers Steve Waugh and Richie Benaud plus footballers Reg Gasnier and Dally Messenger.
There’s no shortage of potential opportunities to catch live sport at the SCG with those elegant grandstands in the background. The ground hosts a cricket Test match in early January each year — which since 2006 has been known as the Pink Test, raising money for breast cancer charity the McGrath Foundation — plus a number of domestic Twenty20 matches, which draw big summer crowds. The Sydney Swans play football every other weekend between April and September, and there’s usually a solitary retro-themed rugby league outing once every winter, too.
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