Third Test, Perth December 13, 2006

Perth - the (Mr) Cricket City

The WACA looks, frankly, shabby

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.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer