Changing face of Ponting's Adelaide
Like any adult looking on as the family home is subject to major renovations, Ricky Ponting views Adelaide Oval's reinvention with a mixture of emotions. As roomy, convenient and "state of the art" as the new stadium will be, the old was a place of great beauty, history and charm, a cricket ground in the truest sense, and a second home for Ponting.
This week the world will see the ground in its state of reconstruction, offering players, spectators and television viewers one final lingering view of St Peter's Cathedral and the Adelaide skyline. By next summer's Ashes Test they will be blocked almost entirely out of sight by the encircling new stands designed to accommodate as many as 50,000 spectators for the AFL clubs set to call the oval home from 2014. Ponting will mourn this vanishing vista, for it has offered him his favourite atmosphere in which to play cricket over more than 20 years in the game.
"That's definitely something we'll notice when we come back in years to come," Ponting told ESPNcricinfo. "One thing that has always defined this ground and made it different from most around the world is what you actually get to see from the middle. A lot of the other places you go are like big concrete jungles.
"You see corporate boxes, dark windows, corporate logos and sponsors all over the place and that's something you haven't had to ever see much of at Adelaide Oval. They're doing their best to keep what they can, with the old scoreboard and the hill area and some fig trees down the back, but other than that it'll end up looking like most other grounds around Australia."
Ponting's affinity with Adelaide began when he was 15, in the first of two years as a precocious scholar at the Cricket Academy, then run by Rod Marsh. His cricket education and supply of pocket money were enhanced when he was one of two scholars to gain part-time work on the oval's ground staff, with duties including changing the nuts and bolts on the wooden benches that used to line the members' side of the ground.
"It wasn't easy work for us back then," Ponting said. "I think we were getting paid $40 a month when we were at the academy so you can imagine that doesn't go very far, so you tried to pick up some part-time work along the way. Simon Cook and I were the two who were working at Adelaide Oval that year, so we might've got $5 an hour for what we were doing there and we used to work around our training times. Well, I used to work, Cooky used to sleep in the grandstand most of the time, but they were good days.
"I was a 15-16 year-old boy living the dream really of being part of the cricket academy, training with better players, training with Rod Marsh, Ian Chappell, John Inverarity and those guys as coaches. It wasn't so much the work I did at Adelaide Oval that I look back on and cherish, but it was the time spent learning about cricket and learning about myself as a person and a player that were the really enjoyable times here in Adelaide."
Those times took place soon after the oval had begun a subtle process of modernisation by erecting the Sir Donald Bradman Stand at the southern end. As Ponting's career grew, so did the oval's capacity and capability, taking in permanent floodlights - after an abortive attempt at retractable towers - and the construction of the Chappell and Clem Hill stands. All these advances were designed to enhance the ground's capacity for hosting cricket matches, but the push for football to return to the city after years at the SANFL's West Lakes headquarters forced a far more dramatic recasting of the ground.
While Ponting loves football, as a lifelong North Melbourne supporter and the club's No. 1 ticket-holder, he speaks with some sadness at how the winter game has so encroached upon its summer equivalent. When Ponting's state career began, the Gabba was still a quaint ground encircled by a dog track, the MCG's pitches were permanent if not popular and Adelaide was intimate. Now he bats in stadia that need to be full to gain any sense of atmosphere, something more likely to happen for the 2.5 hours of an AFL fixture than the five days of a Test. While marvelling at some of the facilities now springing up in Adelaide and also at the SCG, Ponting concedes cricket has become "a small part of what these entertainment complexes have to offer".
"Most often grounds change for the better, but sometimes they change for the better of other sports," Ponting said. "When you look at our grounds now, all our grounds around Australia have always been cricket grounds but they've changed into football grounds more than anything these days, and cricket's trying to survive on football ovals.
"Footy's been encroaching more and more on cricket every year I think. Even with their longer seasons, and our season starting a little bit earlier now this season and will do in coming seasons as well, the seasons are nearly overlapping. We played our first game of the year on AFL grand final day, so the seasons are starting to overlap, that's had an effect on the SCG this year.
"The Swans making it to the grand final meant that the SCG was nowhere near its best for cricket for the early part of the season. Generally it happens at the Gabba and it can happen at the MCG as well with the change from footy to cricket. The AFL has certain demands as far as their surfaces are concerned, and unfortunately it affects us probably a little bit more than it does for them."
A drop-in pitch was first used in a Test match in Australia on Boxing Day 2000, when Steve Waugh's side faced West Indies at the MCG. In the 12 years since, the process has been refined considerably, though debate continues over whether or not Adelaide Oval truly needed them, given the square's healthy grass coverage and a history of hosting local football matches without a hint of irritation about the wicket. Nonetheless, this time next year an Ashes Test in Adelaide will be played on a drop-in, and Ponting is hopeful that the change will not detract too much from the ground's penchant for a surface that offers something to everyone.
"The characteristics of drop-in wickets are slow, low-bouncing sorts of tracks," Ponting said. "You'd have more of a concern if you take them out of somewhere like Brisbane, generally a fast, bouncy wicket and put drop-ins up there, you can understand it would be changing the character of the wicket too much. But in Adelaide I wouldn't think it'd be that different to tell you the truth.
"Technology these days, compared to when we first started using drop-in pitches around the place, is going to be vastly different as well, they'll have a better idea of how to make them well and more consistent. Ideally you'd like not to have drop-in wickets anywhere, but once again that's inevitable and we'll see how they do come up in Adelaide in coming years."
How many of those years will feature Ponting taking part as a Test batsman is a difficult question, but one thing is certain: his last Test at the ground as a player will not mean the end of the association. Ponting looks forward to coming back, and notes with a grin that the marquees and bars that sit conveniently behind the members' stand will not be affected by the oval's evolution from cricket ground to football stadium.
"If I had another place that was most like home for me it would be Adelaide," he said. "I've always said when I finish playing if I was to come back and watch a Test match it'd be at Adelaide Oval, just for everything about the city and everything about the ground. What you can do in the little bars and things around the ground, it's just a beautiful place to come and watch cricket. It's amazing how many of my friends even from Melbourne and Sydney will travel to Adelaide for the Test match. It's just one of those places that people want to come to."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here