Andrew Miller on England in Australia, 2006-07 December 10, 2006

Whacking off

Forgive me while I make a bid for Private Eye's Pseud's Corner, but as a wannabee writer, I've always been a sucker for a bit of onomatopoeia

Forgive me while I make a bid for Private Eye's Pseud's Corner, but as a wannabee writer, I've always been a sucker for a bit of onomatopoeia. You know the construction I’m talking about - a word or phrase that imitates the sound it is representing: "The moan of doves in immemorial elms and the murmurings of innumerable bees,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson might have put it.

But let’s cut the classical crap. We’re in Australia now, and so there’s no need for such highfalutin examples. Especially not when we are talking about the most satisfyingly named sporting venue in the world. I refer, of course, to the WACA ground in Perth.

"The Whacker".

I love it. I mean, could any name be any more perfect? For as long as I can remember, I've carried visions around in my head of Dennis Lillee hurtling in from the sightscreen, whacking the ball into the rock-hard deck, whacking the ball into the side of a batsman's head, or whacking the ball into Rod Marsh's gloves (with the fingers pointing skywards, naturally).

And what about Roy Fredericks, whacking a 71-ball hundred in that astonishing blitzkrieg in 1975-76? Or Mark Waugh, whacking Daniel Vettori onto the roof of the Lillee-Marsh stand. I've been sat up there for the past two days, and believe me, that's quite some hit.

Whack, whack, whack. It's what Perth is all about. Lightning-fast bouncers, daring on-the-up strokeplay, wicketkeepers standing ten yards back from their usual marks. The absurd possibility of giving away six byes. It’s such an evocative venue, there should be English literature text-books written about the place

Unfortunately, they’d be rather out of date by now. The WACA is losing its whack, and cricket is all the poorer for it. Take the home team for example, Western Australia (or the Retravision Warriors, to give them their ghastly pseudonym). They opened this season's campaign with a massive 3 for 608 against Victoria, and today’s tediously high-scoring draw was not exactly a thrill a minute.

The international omens are little better. Last summer's Test was the scene of a remarkable rearguard century from Jacques Rudolph, who was so unruffled by the featherbed conditions that South Africa lost just three wickets on the final day, and held out for an improbable draw.

There are a hundred-and-one reasons why the bite has gone out of the deck. Australia’s decade-long drought is one of the state’s favourite scapegoats, but another reason could lie in the incredibly dilapidated state of the proud old ground. The WACA, sadly, is broke, and the pitch is merely a symptom of wider decay.

It’s not hard to see why. The WACA gets just one meaningful match a year (and it’s not always going to be an Ashes decider either). Down at the other end of town, on the other hand, the shiny great Subiaco Oval hoovers up most of the big gigs in town, from AFL fixtures to British Lions tours to Elton John concerts, and there’s very little left over by way of small change. Perth as a city is in the midst of a massive boom, but the WACA, with its semi-completed stands and air of Old Trafford-esque decrepitude, is very much on the bust.

Even so, it’s a ground that you want to warm to. It still maintains its grassy banks at midwicket, for instance, and having witnessed the soullessness of the newly reconstructed Gabba, it’s rather pleasing to cast your eye over the higgledy-piggledy seating arrangements that Perth has got lined up - a random spike of extra scaffolding here, a towerblock of ill-fitting pews there. Another capacity crowd is anticipated for this Test, and the clamour of 24,000 tightly packed punters will doubtless paper over the stadium’s cracks.

But, if there is any doubt about the status of the WACA, one only needs to turn one’s eyes to the skies, and drink in the sight of its six huge floodlights. They have dominated Perth’s skyline since 1986, and doubtless the ground’s balance sheets too. But they are still evidence that a mighty ambition exists within the walls of an improbably tiny ground.

Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine