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Thommo, Lillee and wild WACA days

As the 'Forged in Fire' documentary highlights, the 1974-75 Ashes witnessed the birth of a legendary Australian pairing

As Perth's WACA Ground and the Ashes prepare to part company after an occasionally volatile relationship spanning almost 50 years, nostalgia buffs have once more begun trotting out their misty-eyed reminiscences of the venue's famed fast bowlers' pitch.

The ground that famously hosted Greg Chappell's patient century on debut in its maiden Test of 1970, the appearance of Dennis Lillee armed with an aluminium bat a decade later then Brett Lee's fearsome felling of England's Alex Tudor in 2002 will pass into Ashes folklore next week.

But those looking for a reminder of how hostile the WACA – the Australia Test ground where England has experienced its longest victory drought, stretching back to 1978-79 – can sate their nostalgia need in the first episode of Cricket Australia Productions' upcoming Ashes documentary Forged in Fire screening on the Nine Network.

The three-part series will screen immediately after the cessation of play across the first three days of the third Magellan Ashes Test that begins on Thursday, with the initial chapter focusing on perhaps the most brutal fast-bowling display the WACA has hosted.

The 1974-75 Ashes campaign in which Australia unleashed Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson on an unsuspecting and equally unprepared England led by Scotsman Mike Denness captures the WACA Ground's signature feature at its most lively.

Forged in Fire: Episode 1 trailer

It provided the perfect canvas upon which Lillee and Thomson could inflict maximum mental and physical damage upon a touring party that had arrived in Australia with the Ashes in their keep, and realised during the opening Test at the Gabba in Brisbane that holding on to them would come at significant personal cost.

Not only was there an initial belief among Denness's men that Lillee – who had spent almost two years sidelined from Test cricket after suffering stress fractures in his back – could not return as the same menacing force he had proved in the previous Ashes series in England in 1972.

They also felt they had little to fear from Thomson, who had played a sole Test for Australia two years earlier where he failed to take a wicket, and while he was acknowledged as a genuinely fast bowler he was also known to be erratic and unlikely to maintain hostility for lengthy spells.

But as Thomson reveals in the documentary that also details Australia's Ashes renaissance under Allan Border in the late 1980s and the 2005 series in England widely regarded as the most compelling of modern times, he was a raging storm about to make landfall.

"This is no bullshit, most weekends we (he and fellow fast bowler Len Pascoe at Bankstown in Sydney's grade competition) played we put somebody on a stretcher or in a hospital or something like that," Thomson tells Forged in Fire.

"It was just carnage.

"They were pretty scared shit, the players, I know some blokes didn't turn up.

Forged in Fire: Episode 2 trailer

"I'd rather hit them than get them out.

"I hated batsmen back then because they were keeping me on the field.

"All I did was realise what I wanted to do, and that was be the quickest bowler in the world."

As Thomson's then captain Ian Chappell notes in the documentary: "I think a lot of batsmen around the world thought that Thommo was a maniac who was out to kill them.

"And that didn't do him any harm."

Thomson's legend was born in the opening Test of that Ashes summer, played on an under-prepared pitch in Brisbane, where he and Lillee unleashed a bouncer war that left two England players with hand injuries and most of the squad suffering from shellshock.


The prospect of then confronting the Australia pair on the WACA pitch, from which the ball skidded through as if off glass, led England to call for emergency measures which meant 41-year-old former captain Colin Cowdrey was summoned from the depths of British winter to galvanise their batting.

Cowdrey bore a series of sickening blows to his body that was encased in swathes of protective foam, a forerunner to modern-day body armour in an era when the only skull protection for batters was provided by a cloth cap or a towelling sun hat.

But it was England's rookie opener David Lloyd, who began the innings with Cowdrey when England batted a second time after regular opener Brian Luckhurst became the latest to suffer a broken hand, who provided that Test's second-most enduring moment when he was struck amidships by Thomson.

Providing a story that Lloyd has dined out upon in his subsequent livelihood as a commentator, author and columnist with a profile that far overshadows his nine-Test playing career.

"He (Lloyd) owes me so much money, because if I hadn't have hit him in the balls nobody would know who he was," Thomson recounts.

However, the moment for which that Test – perhaps the most famous of the 13 England encounters fought at the WACA – is most often recalled is Australia batter Doug Walters' century completed in a single session and crowned with a six from the day's final delivery bowled by lanky quick Bob Willis.

Walters reveals in Forged in Fire that his memorable knock was preceded by an exchange with Greg Chappell when the pair passed each other at the WACA players' gate, with Chappell claiming to his laidback teammate that he had only been dismissed "so you could get a hundred in the last session".

"And I said (to Chappell) 'you wouldn't get out to give your mother a hit'," Walters recalls.

Forged in Fire: Episode 3 trailer

Having flayed England's dispirited attack to all parts of the WACA during that evening session, Walters – requiring a boundary from the final ball to reach the rare milestone – correctly anticipated a bouncer from Willis that he swatted flat and rifle-like over the square leg boundary.

At which point he immediately spun on his heel, tucked his bat under his arm and headed for the Australia dressing room where he hoped his teammates "might have the tops off a couple of (beer) bottles" to toast his historic achievement.

But as his team's resident dressing room prankster, Walters this time found himself the butt of an elaborate sting perpetrated by his captain and willingly entered into by his fellow players.

"I said everybody grab their drinks and we're into the toilets and the showers so there's no-one here when he comes in," Chappell recalls of the moment that Walters jogged off the field to find the dressing room deserted, at which point Walters took a seat and silently lit up a cigarette.

"And after about 10 minutes, nothing," he recalls. "So I said to the guys 'well, this is a waste of time, we might as well go out'.

"He (Walters) was sitting there having a smoke, Terry Jenner (Australia's 12th man) gets a beer, walks over, hands it to him and (Walters) says 'not before time, twelfthie'."

Forged in Fire screens on the Nine Network immediately following the end of each day's telecast of the Third Magellan Ashes Test in Perth on December 14, 15 and 16.

Airing times: Thursday 14th Ep1-NSW/VIC/ACT/TAS 9pm. SA 8:30pm. QLD 8pm. NT 7:30pm. WA 8:30pm. Friday 15th Ep 2-NSW/VIC/ACT/TAS 9pm. SA 8:30pm. QLD 8pm. NT 7:30pm. WA 7:30pm. Saturday 16th Ep 3-NSW/VIC/ACT/TAS 9pm .SA 8:30pm. QLD 8pm. NT 7:30pm. WA 8pm.

2017-18 International Fixtures

Magellan Ashes Series

Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.

England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.

First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard

Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets

Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets

Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21