Cricket Australia's decision to bypass Perth for India's four-match Test series this summer has left the WACA chief executive Christina Matthews and chairman Terry Waldron fuming on Thursday.
The Western Australian cricket chiefs claim they were promised a guaranteed top-line Test every year once Perth Stadium replaced the WACA Ground as the state's prime international venue. The new stadium hosted India and New Zealand successfully for Test matches over the past two seasons, but this time Perth is left with the inaugural Test match between Australia and Afghanistan. The match is contracted to be hosted by Perth Stadium, though the WACA Ground has been refurbished to host "non-marquee" international fixtures. CA is set to formally announce the international fixture on Friday but Matthews and Waldron made their irritation plain.
"This is the second time we haven't had India scheduled, the last time we were told it was because our venue wasn't good enough and if we supported a new stadium, this would never happen again, and here we are again," Matthews said in Perth. "I want to make it clear, hosting a Test is a privilege, not a right and we understand that, and we're as privileged to host Afghanistan as anyone else and we'll certainly put on a really good show and welcome Afghanistan to the Test arena in Australia.
"But suffice to say, not having India tour here for the second time in six years is very disappointing for us, for our members, for our fans, and I daresay for the government who has put in a lot of time and effort into creating a stadium that has been recognised around the world as the most beautiful stadium in the world and in fact, was rated as the second-best cricket ground in Australia in a survey. So we've been a little bit bemused and disappointed how we haven't been scheduled for one of the prime series in the cricket calendar.
"The government invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to make Perth Stadium cricket friendly from the start, so all the facilities for cricket were built into that, and at the time Cricket Australia gave a guarantee to the government that they would absolutely be utilising that stadium to its fullest. Also, we have over 10,000 members, who year after year invest in cricket. Rusted on fans are here, the crowds are better, the facilities are better, the corporate hospitality has more flexibility and more potential. So to us, it doesn't quite pass the pub test."
Waldron, who became the WACA chairman last year, described the decision as a "kick in the guts". "I just want to say as chair of the WACA and on behalf of the WACA and all cricket lovers in WA, I'm really disappointed in this decision," he said. "I actually think it's the wrong decision, we made a really compelling case, along with the government to CA, I looked at that again this morning, and when I went through it, I just can't understand why they'd make that decision.
"I do understand it's difficult for CA, they have to make the call and we will now pick up the cudgels and we'll get on with it. Afghanistan are an exciting, emerging team. But I am disappointed and I actually think it is a kick in the guts to WA, to all our cricket-loving people in WA and to our WACA members. When you've got one of the best stadiums in the world and when you've got the second-best cricket venue, the time slot back to India for TV etc, to me it's a no brainer.
"I understand it's a tough decision for CA, good luck to Queensland and we wish them all the best. We'll keep putting the pressure on because I, as chairman of the WACA, and Christine and our team, we've got a responsibility to cricket in WA, to cricket supporters, to fans and to our members."
It has long been the strong preference of the Australian Test team to begin major series at the Gabba, something pointed out more than once by the captain Tim Paine in reference to India, who played the 2018-19 Test series in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. Brisbane's facilities are nowhere near those of the new Perth Stadium, but CA has also made a strong commercial case for choosing the Gabba as the venue for the series opener.
"We've been told commercially Brisbane is more viable for Australian cricket and that over an eight-year touring period from 2015 to 2023, WA has a better schedule than anyone else. I'm not really privy to what's going to happen in the next three years, but they were the key reasons," Matthews said. "This is not about Brisbane or the Gabba. They, like us, have to fight for their fans and their cricket community, however, all the metrics associated with cricket over the last two years see us surpass Brisbane in every area.
"Whether that's crowds, broadcast ratings, even better rainfall at that time of year, more corporate seats. Just so many indicators and a brand new stadium and when Australian cricket's primary objective is fans first, it is astounding the 10,000 members who pay money to support cricket year after year in this state, are not rewarded the No. 1 Test team to tour next year. It seems to me anything west of Melbourne doesn't get the same consideration as anything around the east coast."
Asked about the financial cost of hosting Afghanistan rather than India, Matthews said that WACA memberships alone may slip down to the tune of up to A$4 million (US$ 2.6m approx.) on the state association's balance sheet. "We hope our members will continue to support us, but we have to factor in, that could be a A$3-4 million hit on memberships alone," she said. "Those things are not considered when these decisions are made. They're not necessarily looking at the hardcore cricket fans when they're making those decisions. You have a couple of days to digest and then you move on… [but] I think when we see India fly across the top of us to the other side of the country, we might shed a little tear."