Sadness and hope as WACA's demise imminent
As Australia's cricketers lament the imminent demise of the WACA Ground as a major international venue, a paltry crowd for the second Test against New Zealand is expected to underline why this is so.
A gathering of around 10,000 spectators is in prospect for day one of the match, with attendances depreciating further from there. Searing temperatures will not help to sell the experience, and some of the ground's temporary seating has not even been put in place for this week - raised concrete terraces next to the Prindiville Stand will radiate heat rather than noise.
There are other factors apart from the unforgiving nature of the ground itself. Promotion of the Test series does not appear to have stuck in the minds of prospective ticket-buyers. Meanwhile the WACA's odd tradition of not suspending local club cricket on the Saturday of the Test has continued in spite of a yearning by many a local player to attend Steven Smith's first Perth match as captain.
All this is viewed with considerable pain by the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Adam Voges, two players steeped in the story of the WACA Ground who have also enjoyed great personal success in the middle. Johnson's increasingly world-weary visage was writ large across his thoughts about the looming move of most major fixtures to the Burswood Stadium, potentially as early as the next Ashes summer in 2017-18.
"It's sad, I think it is a great ground to play at," Johnson said. "Most teams would say the same thing, it's a great place to play cricket. It will be sad for it to go, there's not much we can do as players about it except go out there and try to enjoy the games that we do have out there. It's disappointing but at the same time there's a new stadium that's being built and that is going to hopefully bring more people to the games.
"It's a difficult one because it's a ground that I have had success at, probably my most success at. I remember playing my first shield game here in the early 2000s playing against Joey Angel and Brad Williams and remembering how quick and bouncy it was then and the cracks and how that played, and you just aren't going to get that anywhere else.
"Everyone's different, I do like that you get a bit of a breeze here with the openings, you've got the grassed area, but I think all sports around the world are played in bigger stadiums generally. That's just the way it is. They are built for getting spectators in and watching us play and perform and I guess to try and excite the crowds. There's two ways to look at it, but I prefer it like this."
Voges accepted that the WACA quirks loved by the players also contributed to the discomfort of the fans, from the motley assortment of seating arrangements to amenities like toilets, bars and food outlets - none of which are the sorts of issues immediately evident from the cloisters of the players' dressing rooms and viewing area. He has also spoken to the WACA curator Matthew Page about the ground staff's ambitions to find a way of preparing fast and bouncy drop-in pitches at the new stadium.
"It's exciting for Western Australia to have a brand new facility," he said. "It just means that Test cricket here is - not coming to an end, but we're not going to see as much Test cricket here at the WACA. A little part of me is saddened by that, but obviously it's a very exciting future as well.
"We play on a lot of drop-in wickets now and soon enough we're going to be playing on another one. It is what it is. We understand that we need that in order for the future of the game to continue and that's the most important thing. Pagey's working his guts out to prepare a drop-in that has similar characteristics to the WACA. Whether that's possible, we'll wait and see," Voges said.
Page spoke unabashedly this week about trying to replicate "the olden days" at the ground, and it is in a fast and bouncy track that Australia's players find most of their love for playing here. Value for shots but also value for bowlers, and value for the home side, too. "I really enjoy playing here at the WACA, we generally get a good crowd here and good support," Smith said. "Hopefully they roll out this week and really back us up to get us over the line in this series."
As for the future move across the Swan River to Burswood, it will be up to the players of Smith's generation and younger to adjust to whatever vagaries it throws up. For the likes of Johnson and Voges, the prospect of losing the WACA will hurt, but that of spectating at a swish new stadium sits rather better. "I see myself," Voges said, "watching a bit of cricket there."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig