Roving reporter at the 3rd Test January 19, 2008

Standing up for tradition

The WACA members line up ready to claim their favourite seats © Nagraj Gollapudi

Traditions enrich the game of cricket. And these traditions have more often than not extended beyond the ropes. One such case exists at the famed WACA in Perth, and this one has to do with the members. Not those snooty ones that occupy the best seats to get the best views. These members are the ordinary Tims, Toms, Janes and Jennys who go that extra yard to live their passion for the game of cricket.

It's eight in the morning at the WACA and play is still three and a half hours away, but the gates at the Truman Entrance outside the Members Pavilion are already buzzing with life. Men, women, families of all ages have been camping outside the gates for hours, some even from as early as 3am. These are not the fairweather fans looking for last-minute tickets. These are members of the WACA who pay a A$220 season fee but burn the midnight oil for five days just so that they can occupy their seat in the members' stand at the Lillee-Marsh end.

There was a crowd of around 500 queued up outside the gates with some of them still getting out of their sleeping bags while a few were lying on the mats weary from the long night vigil. Die-hards recall about 2000-plus people bunking it out outside during last year's visit by England, so that they could reach their vantage point in the stands.

"People want the very seat they sat on the last time around," says Rohan, an Indian based in California but who times his vacation to coincide with the Test match at the WACA. Rohan's wife is from Perth and he has been using her membership and this is the second year in a row he has come to the ground. His cricket mania isn't new: Rohan was one of the many volunteers who would score, do ball-by-ball commentary and report for Cricinfo back in the days when the website was just taking seed.

David, who goes by the name of Blob on the IRC's Cricinfo chatroom, has been a WACA member now for 12 years. As a four-year-old he saw Dennis Lillee at the WACA in 1970. As a kid his love for the Western Australian team would see him doing his homework watching cricket at his home ground. As a grown-up he does live scoring on his yellow notepad every Test. Blob feels these die-hard members are "tragics", and goes on to explain why. "I use that term," he says, "because of the length we guys go for the love of cricket. It's like a story of the tragic."

Paul Urquhart, a project manager in Sydney, left his job to see the first ball of the on-going contest between Australia and India this time around. "This is the second year in a row I've had to leave my job so that I could make it here," says Urquhart, who looks touching 40s and has the spirit of a larrikin. Urquhart left his job during the Ashes last year as his employers wanted to tie him down with work commitments but he wanted to break free and arrived in time to join the huge throngs outside the Members Stand.

"This is the second year in a row I've had to leave my job so that I could make it here."

So why do these guys want to sit in the same seat? What's so special? "Each one of us has worked out for ourselves which one point it is from where we can get what we want," Rohan says. And most of the time, yes, you guessed it, it's behind the bowler's arm. Blob likes to sit just about a metre to the left of the bowler's arm. Rohan, Blob's immediate neighbour, likes to see it from a "height". Then there are the older members who have been coming in groups for decades and know no-one will occupy their seats. The Lyalls, John and Cynthia, both 84 years of age, have been "residents" of their seats in the centre of the Lillee-Marsh Stand now for 38 years. "Except for the Test against South Africa few years back we haven't missed any," says John, who worked at the WACA for ten years as a crowd facilitator when the members used to sit at the old Prindiville Stand. "We have our own group," says Cynthia, pointing at their entire row to her right and left before adding "and we all are traditionalists".

Yes, it's easy to see these members are purists at heart. Even if there are shouts and murmurs round the ground, the Members Stand practices a strict sense of decorum. "It's about discipline," says Cynthia. Not that it's always quiet. There are numerous anecdotes exchanged, a number of cricketing stories told, a whole lot of discussions, debates and vox populis held that binds this tight group together.

"I like to listen to stories from the times when I was not even born," Rohan says. For Blob it's sharing the cricket with "like-minded people". A tradition these guys believe makes cricket that much more interesting.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo