Something old, something new
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.
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 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