History

A brief history of Western Australia

Sam Collins

First-class debut 1893
Admitted to Sheffield Shield1947-48
Sheffield Shield/Pura Cup 1947-48, 1955-56, 1971-72, 1972-73, 1974-75, 1976-77, 1977-78, 1980-81, 1983-84, 1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89, 1991-92, 1997-98, 1998-99
One-day cup 1970-71, 1973-74, 1976-77, 1977-78, 1982-83, 1985-86, 1987-88, 1989-90, 1990-91, 1996-97, 1999-2000

Western Australia rose from being the forgotten state of Australian cricket to dominate the domestic game in the 1970s and 80s. While they were only admitted to the Sheffield Shield in 1947-48, cricket in Perth can be traced as far back as 1835. The quality of their game was not the problem; rather the "tyranny of distance", as historians have referred to it.

WA represents a third of the Australian continent, and with Perth placed neatly on the West Coast, some 2500 miles from Sydney, the long sea voyage meant inter-state cricket was never a realistic proposition (construction on the Nullarbor rail-link did not begin until 1917). The Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) was formed in 1885, but the first WA team did not leave to tour the east until 1892-93, when they were demolished by a Victorian team, and they did not tour New South Wales until 1912.

A further consequence of this geographical isolation was that the talent of many great cricketers went unrecognised by the Australian selectors. The first Western Australian to represent the national side was Ernest Bromley, a left-handed batsman, in 1934, and he had had to move to Victoria first.

In 1947-48 WA finally gained a grudging admission into the Sheffield Shield, albeit on probation, playing four matches instead of the usual seven. The advent of rail and air-travel had made the distances more accessible for Eastern states, although in those early days WA were expected to pay most of their opponent's travelling expenses. When Keith Carmody, the inventor of the umbrella field, came over as coach from Sydney and guided them to the Shield at the first attempt it was an emotional moment and a signal of their coming of age.

They gained full admission to the Shield in 1956-57, and although they would not win it again until 1967-68, this heralded the start of a golden period for the state, as they went on to claim the trophy 12 times in the next 25 years.

Characters at the forefront of this dominance included, initially, Tony Lock, the embittered Englishman who subsequently moved to WA and whose off-spin proved decisive in that 1967-68 season. Equally, the name of John Inverarity is never far from the lips when discussing Western Australian success, as WA won the Shield four times in five years under his shrewd captaincy. Inverarity himself would go on to break the Shield's individual run aggregate record.

It was also during this era that the legend of the Western Australian fast bowler was born, as a production line including first Graham McKenzie and subsequently Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman learnt their trade exploiting the hard, bouncy wickets at the WACA, and the Fremantle Doctor that blew in every afternoon. With Rodney Marsh behind the stumps and a top-order that could at times be mistaken for the Australian line-up, they were a formidable opposition.

Their dominance could not last forever, and despite a brief period of success at the end of the 1990's, they have not won the domestic title since 1998-99. They have continued to provide the national team with a steady stream of players, and when Adam Gilchrist moved to WA from NSW in 1994 to enhance his Test prospects, reversing the migratory trend of a bygone era, it illustrated just how far the state has come.

Sam Collins is a freelance journalist based in London.