Amidst cricket’s upheavals and the current stunning form reversal, the WACA Test was able to show us that some things never change. For one, it was another eventful and entertaining test on the WACA Ground’s lively wicket; for another, the venue’s considerable inadequacies were again laid bare, as generally seems to happen whenever it gets to hold a major event.
Having grown up in WA, I still reserve a certain fondness and sentimentality for the WACA Ground, but it’s starting to give way to exasperation. It’s certainly not a sense of nostalgia for the days before ‘progress’ – it’s probably the only place in the world I can think of where facilities and services at the ground have grown considerably worse over the last three decades.
I was in Perth on Day 1 of the Test, and made my first visit to the WACA for 7 years. Well aware of the plan to sell parcels of land in each corner to build residential towers (in order to then fund the ground’s redevelopment), I rolled up honestly expecting to see a series of cranes and half-built towers scattered around the ground’s periphery. Alas, no. Not a thing. Not even a temporary construction office, a fence, a council notice of development plans, a clearing out of old ramschackle structures that sit in the way.
In fact, it looked like nothing much had been done there at all since the 1990’s. Even relics from the days when AFL games were played there (the last game was in 2000) have had white paint plastered across them, but not actually been pulled down: there’s the old analogue time-clock on a light tower behind where the goalposts were at the Trinity end, and the large rotational sponsorship signs that now have structures in front of them. Has the ground’s budget for upkeep really been that paltry?
Perth people were disappointed that Cricket Australia left them off the schedule for the 4-test series in 2014-15, but then the ICC decided to pay a visit last week and compound their woes, by declaring the ground not up to international standard. Whilst I think the ICC might want to redefine their standards (from personal experience, I can attest that the WACA is up to the equally-poor standard of the venues at Chennai, Bangalore, Durban, Kingston, Headingly & Edgbaston… and I would confidently guess Dhaka, Kanpur, Colombo, Harare, etc), you get their point, and the WACA has fallen even further behind the other Australian grounds.
That Perth finds itself in this predicament is a result of greedy and short-sighted sporting administrators. Oblivious to economics and the reality of the city’s size, every sport has consistently insisted on having its “own” venue (and to be fair, politicians of both sides have lacked the guts to tell them to pull their heads in). So instead of building 1 world-class venue for the city, each sport has been able to eschew collaboration and have their own little third-rate hovel – and the unfortunate Perth sporting public has been left with both the country’s worst cricket ground, and the worst stadium in the AFL.
I wrote about Perth’s pathetic stadium predicament previously for the Footy Almanac (though more from a footy perspective) at http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/from-the-folly-of-subiaco-to-greener-pastures/, and the WACA (the Association, that is) have been every bit as guilty of the pigheadedness (and sense of entitlement on the public purse) as the WAFC. Each set of administrators have treated the Perth sporting public (ie. the fans of their sports – their key constituents, you would think) with the most horrible form of utter contempt.
Looking ahead, the new stadium at Burswood will provide some relief for WA cricket fans, though probably not in time for the next home Ashes series in 2017-18 (the stadium is scheduled to be ready for the 2018 AFL season, and past experience tells you that a Perth sporting stadium development is more likely to be 10 years behind schedule than 1 in front of it). If they can replicate the Harvey clay soils that sit under the bouncy WACA deck for drop-in pitches, presumably all international and Big Bash cricket will go to the swish new facilities – the issue then becomes convincing the ICC, Cricket Australia and the Perth public to suck it up for the 4 summers between now and then.
Meanwhile, the WACA Ground’s best hope for any future use is as a cut-down venue just for Shield games – essentially Perth’s equivalent of Alan Border Field or the Junction Oval. But then Floreat Oval or Lilac Hill (or even Richardson Park, with some development) could probably do that just as adequately as a chunk of prime real estate on the fringe of the CBD.
Lastly, it’s also got to be said that the WACA (the Association) didn’t exactly cover itself in glory during last week’s Test, which would have only fuelled the ICC’s criticisms of its Ground. Yes, the spectator areas are woefully unshaded (thereby exacerbating the extreme heat), but in a crowd of 20,000, you really shouldn’t have to line up (in the sun) for a half-hour to get food or drink – or to get inside the ground in the first place. They clearly couldn’t be bothered putting on sufficient staff or opening up enough queuing lanes at the gates (despite it being a sell-out, and them having plenty of experience on exactly what the spectator traffic and demand was going to be).
My last experience at the WACA (for this Test, and probably ever) was an appropriately sour one. After watching the first 2 sessions with my father, I left at Tea to get a flight back east to my wife and toddler – so I had made arrangements to meet my brother at Tea and give him my ticket, so that he and Dad could watch the last session together. As opposed to Melbourne or Brisbane where can simply scan your ticket out, the WACA staff tried to thwart us on this, using the antiquated practice of night-club stamps on wrists. When I protested and explained I was giving my ticket to my brother, I was told this was not allowed, and that this was exactly what they were trying to stop.
Let’s remember that the Day was a sell-out (ie. there was no option for my brother to buy a ticket). This was a purely a case of (i) do we let a cricket fan come in and watch a spectacle of our sport being showcased at its highest, on a ticket that has already been paid for, and have a full stadium with atmosphere, or (ii) do we want to have an empty seat. As it was, my brother out-smarted them (ie. their lack of good intentions is matched by their lack of competence), but the fact they wanted the latter spoke volumes once again of the WACA’s contempt for the Perth sporting public.