Something old, something new

Aaron Owen
Adelaide Oval may be shiny and all spruced up, but it's a shadow of its former self

On a recent sunny spring day, my visiting companion and I strolled along the well-mown and paved path bordering Torrens Lake to the southern entrance of Adelaide Oval. For the cricket fan, it's the ultimate Adelaide must-do.

A few years ago, a half-a-billion dollar redevelopment plan was pushed through, ostensibly to bring the Australian Football League - the highest level of cash-rich Australian Rules football - to Adelaide Oval. While wary that a proposal to turn the Oval into a "world-class stadium" would rob the venue of its much-feted charm and character, I was also aware that staying static could be the first step towards obsoleteness. All I could do was vote in the ballot, be outnumbered, and hope for the best.

And now, the redeveloper's efforts stood at the end of our walk from the CBD. An Adelaide Oval regular since I was nine, I'm old enough to remember the aged southern Creswell Stand, which was replaced by the modern-for-the-times Sir Donald Bradman Stand in the early nineties. And now - wow! - this new, but boringly named "Riverbank Stand" features every "modern" cliché in sporting architecture.

This winter, the first AFL season back at the ground - home for the Adelaide Crows and Port Power football clubs - saw both teams share the ground and regularly draw large, vocal, involved and happy crowds of around 50,000.

At the southern "front" entrance (when arriving from the city, as most will) in the vast open square-like area - adjacent to Adelaide's now dwarfed but still premier tennis precinct, Memorial Drive - is a statue of Barrie Robran, perhaps the finest of all South Australian players of Australian Rules Football. The bronze sculpture, which depicts him "in flight", is positioned in front of the ground.

The ground level features much more open space than before, allowing spectators a glimpse of the game right from the moment they enter the stadium. It's a lovely feeling to be able to see the Oval panorama even before one finds and takes one's seat: a real soak-it-in moment.

Spectators make their way into the Riverbank Stand
Spectators make their way into the Riverbank Stand © Getty Images

The 2014-2015 cricket season, including the World Cup, will be the first full cricket season in the new-look stadium. I'm looking forward to many days there in the added comfort of overhead shade, extra legroom, and hopefully some days with 50,000-plus crowds - a figure the Oval has not seen for decades.

With all three stands now roofed similarly under sail-like canopies, the ground feels somehow more closed-in and, strangely, bulkier than before. This despite the white materials used and the airiness aspired to. The century-old scoreboard at the northern, or Cathedral, End, sitting in front of the gothic St Peter's Cathedral, helps maintain some link to the past. It's a wonder of sorts, still loved, still mostly accurate, and the Oval tour includes a visit inside the board to view its mechanics and secrets.

The ground's understated appeal is going, or perhaps gone, replaced by a 21st century user-friendly "interface". And it is losing some character in the version update.

The eastern stands, named for past South Australian footballing greats, are immense compared to the original sail-shaded stands named for the Chappell brothers. Apart from casting earlier and larger shadows across the ground, they now block out the view of the Adelaide Hills further to the east.

But anyone would think I paid no attention to the ground! It looks and feels great: We got to walk on it! After some drought years in the last decade, Adelaide Oval has frequently looked patchy, but now every blade is colour- and condition-perfect.

The anti-freeloader Moreton Bay figs © Getty Images

The giant and quick-growing Moreton Bay figs at the Cathedral End, I learnt, were planted over 100 years ago to block the view of unticketed spectators outside the ground. I couldn't help but chuckle that something so beautiful and fitting as the figs were thought up merely as a safeguard against freebies.

Around the back of the Members' pavilion, the practice nets have moved away. To make up for the emptiness, there is a bronze statue of Jason Gillespie, caught in whirlwind action to former South Australia and Australia team-mate Darren Lehmann, who looks to be hoicking (as usual).

Up the rear walls of the Members' stands, the old ivy still exists, growing skyward; it was temporarily removed and survived replanting in an earlier upgrade of the stadium a few years ago.

The visit to the Sheffield Room was rewarding all around. I saw the Sheffield Shield, Australia's first-class domestic trophy, as well.

Adelaide Oval may have slipped down the lists of the world's most beautiful or elegant cricketing arenas. But who cares, really? It's still hallowed ground. Come along and enjoy it. It won't always be this way.

Aaron Owen is a 37-year-old Sydney born but long-time Adelaide resident, writer and photographer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2015, 17:02 GMT

    I was working on a sheep station in the 90s and one of my co workers had a spare ticket for three days play of the Test. The 6 hour drive from the middle of nowhere was worthwhile as it was a brilliant experience. It reminded me of the old Newlands and a little bit of the old Bridgetown ground in Barbados.

  • hayden on January 21, 2015, 22:25 GMT

    anyone that says this ground is a shadow of its old self, clearly hasnt set foot in the venue! best ground to watch any sport from in australia!!! just a shame cricket australia dont utilise the venue more!

  • Basil on January 21, 2015, 20:53 GMT

    People can knock it all they want. As modernumpiresplz has said watching a cricket ground with grass banks bathed in sunshine on TV is a pretty sight, but being at the oval in 40 degree heat with no sun protection is not so enjoyable. So I'm sorry for the armchair critics from other cities that used to enjoy our quaint little ground from the comfort of there couch, but we now have a real sports stadium that gives Adelaide the opportunity to host bigger sporting events, and unlike Sydney, people turn up.

  • Jag on January 21, 2015, 17:31 GMT

    Admittedly, the redeveloped ground may not boast the character of the old one but I am sure it is significantly more comfortable for a lot of spectators too. We really struggled with the lack of facilities for our 18-month old son at the WACA last year whereas we absolutely loved the Adelaide Oval and would love to return for the next ashes series.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2015, 11:15 GMT

    I grew up in Perth and went to the WACA just about every weekend to watch Shield and later Test cricket. Redevelopment killed it. Adelaide the same - everything that was once charming about it was blown away to make it a 'world class stadium'. The problem lies in the inferiority complex that both cities have always suffered from - the city fathers desperately want to be as good as everyone else, but they think that means being the same as everyone else. One day - and unfortunately it will not be soon - they will grow up and realise that uniqueness has value.

  • thomas on January 21, 2015, 10:21 GMT

    one of the best ground to watch cricket although it lost a bit of its old beauty bt still its one of the best place to see cricket. the dramatic finishes on last session of day 5 of many test matches is the main characteristic of the oval.

  • Xiong on January 21, 2015, 10:14 GMT

    People who only see it on TV don't like it. People who actually go there to watch live sport love it. It's the same problem at the WACA right now. It looks nice with its grass banks and its a real cricket ground, but that's if you're seeing it on TV. In the 40 degree heat that is a staple of mid summer cricket in WA, sitting on rock hard seating with absolutely no shade is a lot less appealing. I think most of us would trade the look of the ground for something a bit more friendly to human beings. Unfortunately it seems we're going to be trading the pitch for a drop-in rather than building some roofing for a bit of shade at the WACA. Thanks a lot purists.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2015, 8:22 GMT

    It used to be my favorites of all the grounds in the world, but not anymore. The development sucks sometimes, n same goes for this ground. Miss the old adelaide oval.

  • Andrew on January 21, 2015, 7:02 GMT

    I think I went there 10 times in 10 years before the redevelopment. I've been there more than 10 times in the last 12 months. The ground is now simply fantastic. Both supporter and sportsman have declared it the best place to watch/play sport in Australia at the moment. Won't be long before WA do something similar. Anyone who says it's no good is just plain wrong.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2015, 6:52 GMT

    good article. Same for Eden Gardens has lost much character but still a great cricket stadium

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