Adelaide Oval Reimagined

The anticipation of wanting to see inside the new Adelaide Oval eventually got too much.

For over a year it has been rising out of the old ground but with construction going on around the clock, the lead up to the Ashes test has a little bit of a Greek Olympics feel to it. There could be some concrete still drying as the first members start queuing on day one.

But what has happened to the prettiest cricket ground in the world? Is it still charming? Spacious and yet intimate? Is the oval still framed by the Cathedral, Moreton Bay figs, the Hills and city skyline?  What about the scoreboard and the hill?

old adelaide oval

There have been selective media events such as last week’s opening of the Bradman Museum but I wanted to have a decent poke around.

There was one man who could make such a tour happen. After a series of phone calls I had a scribbled message on my notepad instructing me to go to the oval’s northern entrance and find my way to the board room.

It was equivalent of a gold lettered invitation.

After negotiating past a series of hard hats and fluro vests I found no one knew about the board room but said something was happening in the Bradman Museum. There I found a gathering of suits. After weaving through them and past pictures of the Invincibles and glass-encased bats that looked as if they had been dipped in honey, there was Ken Horsnell bursting with excitement.

“You just have to have a look at this place because words don’t work,” he says wringing my hand.

It’s an astonishing confession from a man whose enthusiasm for life and turn of phrase makes him one of the great cricket raconteurs.

“Remember about five years ago when they began knocking down the old member’s stand?” he asks “well so it was and so they did and so it is.”

We are soon roaming the ground, dodging safety cones and in and out of press boxes, administration offices, dining rooms and lounges. Luxury is everywhere.

In the large bar we look down at Tasmania declaring late on the fourth day of a shield game with South Australia.

“They gave them nowhere to go,” Ken says with disappointment.

That wasn’t how things were in 1953 when he was picked for South Australia by Sir Donald who had spotted him playing for East Torrens.

bradman

‘I remember walking into the change rooms and everyone had their spot. There was one empty locker and Pancho Ridings said “there you go son you can have that one” and I thought I was in heaven.’

He played in a colourful era with the likes of Ridings, Gil Langley and Neil Dansie and in his best match took 12 wickets against Victoria.

Earlier in our walk Dansie spies us and shouts “Don’t believe anything he says,” to which Ken doubles over laughing.

“This ground is built on the legacy of those blokes. I played under Les Favell and he encouraged that entertaining cricket that passed on to the Chappells and Hookesy.”

Ahead of us the grandstands rise in sweeping curves around the boundary topped by Arabian tent rooves. They suit the testing, invisible heat of South Australian summers. A dining room of glass walls looks back to the city and the hills.

Cricket and football history decorates the buildings. Jason Gillespie bowls to Darren Lehmann – eternally a pitch length apart on the member’s lawn. The wood panelling displaying football’s medallists in gold lettering has been transplanted from West Lakes.

The Members bar, which is hosting a small luncheon, sits above square leg. Ken says he can’t decide which section has the best views as we pad down a corridor where a glass cabinet contains a copper’s shotgun used to guard the bodyline pitch.

This raises the issue of the drop in pitches that has worried some to the point where a city lawyer drew up a petition protesting SACA’s decision to adopt the new decks. The campaign came to an end when the sainted ex-curator Les Burdett endorsed the drop in pitches assuring everyone they would be up to scratch.

Ken finishes his tour outside the Committee Room where in a sweeping gesture he opens the double doors revealing deep carpets, wood panelling and a wall to wall view of the re-imagined ground.

new adelaide oval

Sitting inside watching the cricket and sipping coffee is Dansie and one time test captain Barry Jarman.

“I feel like I am in a sacred place,” I blurt out.

“You are,” says Jarman quietly.

From this perch the ground seems more intimate and the players closer. The stands arise on three sides but the hill remains, framed by Moreton Bays and the heritage scoreboard with the cathedral beyond.

“As long as that is there you still have the old oval” whispers Ken pointing to the northern end “but with a new vigour and sense of expectation.”

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include "1964", "Fos Wiliams on Football" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Mickey Randall says:

    Michael- Thanks for that. I look forward to both the football and the cricket there for years to come. Hope the weather is kind and the Test starting this week is a ripper.

  2. Ben Footner says:

    I am incredibly excited about going to the Adelaide Oval for the first time next year for football.

    From what I have seen I think it’s one of the most tastefully done re-developments in the world. No Gabba or MCG concrete bowl, no ‘bad lego’ SCG combo no bizarro UFO media box a la Lords or Old Trafford style red box.

    The hill is preserved, as is the scoreboard, figs and view of the cathedral.

    Just so impressive.

  3. Peter Schumacher says:

    Must admit that I have had real fears that the charm of the Adelaide Oval would be lost. To quote some well person, “until I see if for myself I will not believe”. If I am wrong I will be making a lot more visits to Adelaide than has been the case since I left Crafers in 1977, because like Ben, and he makes it sound so good, I can’t wait for games to be played their next season.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Michael Good write up oval seems great but not these stupid drop in pitches absolutely ridiculous with the lack of rain we have in ,Adelaide there was no reason common sense could not have happened and had them covered until just before football started in shield games so far the declks have been boring slow and basically poor cricket wickets alas the only reason footy left in the ,1st place was a lack of common sense by
    Bradman mainly we wait and see how both sports will work together

  5. Tony Roberts. says:

    Looking forward to seeing it on Sunday.

    BTW any Almanackers on the look-out for a spare 4th day ticket? 3 rows from the fence, bay 149 (members’ stand end of the hill – dry area, I’m sorry to say…) $45.

  6. Ben Footner says:

    Here is an photo album posted by the Adelaide Football Club with photos of the Oval as of last week…..

    http://www.afc.com.au/gallery/2013-11-28/adelaide-oval-november-28

  7. Peter Schumacher says:

    Thanks Ben, not totally convinced but seeing it on a big screen TV might give me some real idea.

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