Shane Warne has delivered an impassioned plea to the Victorian state government to step in and save his old club cricket ground, the dilapidated Junction Oval, which may otherwise be in its final year as a cricket venue. The ground has typically been Victorian cricket's second home but its facilities have become so run-down that Cricket Australia has declared first-class cricket can no longer be played at the venue unless the conditions are upgraded.
For now, the ground remains the home of the St Kilda club in Melbourne's grade cricket competition but the club may have to find a new home after this summer, as Cricket Victoria's lease on the ground has expired. Cricket Victoria's chief executive Tony Dodemaide said the Junction Oval cost around $500,000 a year to operate, which the organisation could not justify unless there was a long-term plan to upgrade the ground and make it a base for year-round training for the state squad.
Previous state and federal governments had committed funds for an upgrade but changes of government at both levels have led to those plans falling through. Warne, who learnt his craft as a young St Kilda legspinner on the Junction Oval and made his first-class debut there, said it was "a horrible thought" that the Junction Oval may cease to exist as a cricket venue unless funding was found for the upgrade, which would also bring Cricket Victoria into line with other states by providing a dedicated home instead of sharing the MCG facilities with the AFL.
"In Melbourne we pride ourselves on being the sporting capital of the world, and our cricket team might not have a state-of-the-art place," Warne said. "If the government don't get behind us and give us the funding and support to Cricket Victoria, if they don't give us the money that we need, the simple fact is that in the next few months there will be no home for St Kilda Cricket Club and Cricket Victoria are going to have to look at alternative venues.
"It's a real shame and that's why we're all getting behind it. We're pretty passionate about it. As a life member of the St Kilda Cricket Club, I think back to the mid '80s, driving across the ground to the Ross Gregory Oval and playing in the thirds. Managing to sneak up to the Junction Oval and play in the seconds was an amazing experience. To have young kids there and have the future for young kids to play at the Junction Oval at a world-class facility is really important."
The Junction Oval last hosted first-class cricket in 2008-09, although it has held women's ODIs and Twenty20 internationals since then, in spite of a lack of appropriate facilities. For Victoria, an upgrade is not only about making the Junction Oval available for elite level matches, but also to provide the state players with a year-round base to train, given that the MCG is occupied by the AFL throughout winter.
"We think it's essential," Dodemaide said of an upgrade. "We're the only state in Australia that doesn't have its own operating base. Throughout our history we've always been tenants elsewhere, whether we've begged, borrowed or rented other places to play and train. The most consistent one has been the MCG, which is a terrific facility, of course, but we're part-time users because we use the ground and train there when there's nothing else on. Our needs have outgrown that by a long way.
"It [the Junction Oval] has fallen well below the standards required of first-class cricket. From a playing perspective, the ground looks immaculate but underneath, the drainage is very poor and needs to be brought up to standard, and the off-field facilities are very, very poor now. Cricket Australia have confirmed they're well below the standard required for first-class games.
"We're also holding international tour matches there and England women are playing a Chairman's XI there as a warm-up game in January, and it'll be embarrassing because the facilities there in the rooms … in the change-rooms there's one toilet and a couple of urinals. The stands are dilapidated, there's graffiti, the fence palings are (broken)."
Upgrading the ground would also please the AFL, which has the MCG available only from April but starts its season in March. If a second ground was available for the end of the Sheffield Shield season, the AFL could have its wish granted.
"The AFL would like to start their season earlier. The public of Victoria would like that to happen," Dodemaide said. "We're realistic enough to know that a Sheffield Shield match is not the best use of a 100,000-capacity stadium. But that's our only first-class ground at the moment and if that solves the problem for others, we're prepared to move some games to a ground like the Junction Oval if it was upgraded."