December 13, 2006

Third Test, Perth

Perth - the (Mr) Cricket City

Gideon Haigh

In a poll last year, readers of the Guardian and Observer declared Perth their favourite overseas city. English cricketers cannot have been overrepresented among the respondents. The thoroughfare into which one turns from Perth’s airport towards the CBD is Brearley Avenue. Mike deserves at least a street: he’s the only English captain to win a Test here.

The West Australian Cricket Association Ground had a wild and woolly wicket that season - MCC bowled the home state out for 52 and 78 in the tour match – and England sported perhaps its best pace attack of the modern era: Willis, Botham, Hendrick, Lever. What England would do for any one of these bowlers now. Otherwise, the WACA has been an Australian playground, and its name evocative of pace, bounce, heat, light and, of course, wind – the Fremantle Doctor was to Dennis Lillee what the Sussex sea fret was to Maurice Tate.

The name WACA also conveys something else, referring to both association and ground. Owning its own ground has been both a blessing and imposition for the WACA. It has had a valuable asset against which to secure borrowings, and survived the Great Depression by flogging off the adjacent land for a trotting track. The challenges of providing for the arena’s upkeep now, however, are acute: the WACA looks, frankly, shabby. The fifty-year-old scoreboard is not ancient enough to be historic and not charming enough to be venerable; the twenty-year-old lights, like vertical concrete spatulas, are simply ugly; the temporary seating looks it. Yet nothing much savours of tradition here. A majestic new cast of Lillee, WA’s favourite son and now the chairman of the association, is to be unveiled on 22 December – but outside the MCG, rather than his home sod.

Fortunately, there is a big difference between an empty and a full cricket ground, and Western Australians seem determined to enjoy themselves. Perth has been declared ‘Cricket City’ for ten days including the Test – a tribute to Michael Hussey, no doubt. He, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist provide the local content for fans. If Australia win it will be the first time the Ashes have been regained on this ground, and Ricky Ponting may be due to have a whole suburb named for him.

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Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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Posted by tic on (December 18, 2006, 2:04 GMT)

Timothy, your comments on the Gabba are ridiculous. It is a modern coluseum yet it is not too large. At 42000 capacity, every seat is built over the game with great sight lines and atmosphere. So what if it is a multi purpose stadium - that makes its upgrade viable. And what do you call the MCG - its also a multi purpose stadium, but it is simply too big for cricket. Adelaide oval is pretty, but I don't care for the discomfort of sitting on grass in the baking sun - if I'm paying substantial money for a ticket, I want the comfort of my own seat and not shoe-horned into a grassy suburban hill. As for the WACA - a shambles and a poor reflection on WA, but there is no money to upgrade as it is not multi purpose - see the irony Timothy.

Posted by Dean on (December 15, 2006, 1:20 GMT)

Hank, your obviously a Victorain? Sour grapes on the footy I think :)

Posted by Bo on (December 14, 2006, 21:37 GMT)

I left WA in 1980, age 12, but my fondest memories are still of going to the WACA to watch a Sheffield Shield or Test match. Watching Lillee and Alderman open the bowling, invading the pitch at the end of the day in a mad rush for autographs, urging every Kim Hughes pull shot to the boundary - just the greatest stuff! I don't know what it looks like now (living in the US for 25 years), but I hate to think it has lost its charm. I have nothing to contribute to this debate, except Long Live the WACA!

Posted by Cat on (December 14, 2006, 16:46 GMT)

Hank, you have to learn to spell little boy, it is the WACA. Yes, rest of Australia, break away, please. All of a sudden, I become VERY wealthy being from here, as 35% of the countries wealth comes from Western Australia. Oh, if it smells, the future of a prosperous part of the world makes it that way I guess. The local cricket team also would end up in the top 6 of the world, especially with lots of money to develop the sport!

Posted by Liam on (December 14, 2006, 13:26 GMT)

Now if only the federal gov would give WA money they got from our economy we might be able to improve the ground. Then again I'd rather us develop into an Adelaide than an MCG, SCG or Gabba.

Posted by Timmy Z on (December 14, 2006, 13:15 GMT)

As a perth cricket fan, I think the WACA has improved considerably with the recent upgrade but still needs more. We can't keep putting up these dodgy looking temporary stands every time we get a half decent crowd. A couple more decent permanent stands close to the action would complete the ground nicely. As for naming them, how about the Tim Zoehrer Stand and the Get Rid of Ian Healy Stand? That has a nice ring to it.

Posted by Don on (December 14, 2006, 7:08 GMT)

Phil, the hill around 25-30 years back was absolutely the best place for cricket. I guess it changed a lot in the late 80s, but cricket viewing has also changed a lot. By the way - I wasn't a member back then. I guess some of the enjoyment has gone out of watching with the sort of crowds coming to the cricket (and I really am generalizing here, because most of the crowd at the SCG is great). It still doesn't change my feeling that cricket grounds should be more traditional and individual, instead of these concrete monsters that lack any feeling.

Posted by marcus on (December 14, 2006, 5:15 GMT)

Mike, I'd love for there to be a Damien Martyn Stand, if only he hadn't retired just this minute! Maybe in 5 years or so. Other names they could use are the McKenzie Stand, the Alderman Stand or the Meuleman Stand.

Hank, I'd be perfectly happy for W.A to secede, if only to show people like you that we carry this country. The Australian economy would be nothing without us, so how about a little gratitude?

Posted by marcus on (December 13, 2006, 23:13 GMT)

Brett and Don

I think that the WACA as it is now is 90 metres on all sides from the centre of the pitch. If you were to make that 80 metres, it would still be a large ground-one of the largest in the world, I'm sure- but it would also make us as the spectators closer to the action. As it is now, if you sit in even the first tier of the Prindiville Stand, you can't even recognise the players, which is absurd, as with the distance the stand is from the edge, you're effectively sitting 120-150 metres from the action. On top of this, by bringing in the stands to a slightly smaller area you could also increase the capacity of the ground.

And for the record, I love going to the WACA. It is in the perfect location, it's a wonderful atmosphere, and the burgers there are the best I've ever tasted. It just needs a bit of an upgrade, that's all. Unfortunately Mark's right- we can't rely on the government in the meantime, either for upgrading the WACA or building a new stadium.

Posted by Phil on (December 13, 2006, 22:27 GMT)

Don, fairly easy to say you miss the hill at the SCG when you're a member. You also long to return to the feel of a "family outing" - well the SCG hill is the last place you would want your family to sit. I'm also an SCG member, but I've sat on the hill once and it was a disgrace, although it was for a one-day game and test match crowds are better behaved.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gideon Haigh
Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

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