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News Analysis

Australia's Test return to Perth likely to prove a tough sell

But there are more reasons at play than just the sentiment around former coach Justin Langer

Allan Border once observed that Australia playing a Test match in Perth was akin to them being overseas.
Whether it was said in jest or not is hard to tell because Perth Test matches hit differently due to the innate parochialism of locals, who have a particularly strong identity unique from the rest of the country.
Western Australia, separated to the east coast by the vast Nullarbor Plain, in the 1930s became the only Australian state to ever attempt being its own country.
Talk of secession half-jokingly resurfaced during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when WA closed its border for much of 2020 and 2021.
While tough talking premier Mark McGowan became a divisive figure nationwide, he had celebrity status within his state that is extraordinary in Australian politics, as he shrewdly antagonised those 'over east' which was lapped up by increasingly secluded West Australians.
The one-eyed fervour spills over into sports, where local teams are passionately supported to the degree that you sense WA cricket fans care more for Perth Scorchers than the national Australia team.
With low crowds tipped for the first Test at Optus Stadium against West Indies starting on Wednesday, amid favourite son Justin Langer's messy exit as Australia coach going through the wringer, the relationship between West Australians and the national team is in focus.
Amplified by social media, there is a perception that West Australians aggrieved over the Langer saga will essentially boycott the first Test played in Perth since December 2019. With ticket sales sluggish, the 60,000-seat Optus Stadium could look something of an eyesore with dire predictions of less than 10,000 fans attending day one.
While public support is undoubtedly behind Langer, whose gravitas once saw him flagged as a potential saviour of the state's lifeless opposition political party, there are several factors contributing to the lack of interest over a Test starting mid-week that might struggle to reach the weekend if West Indies' past struggles in Australia rear.
Unlike when they used to dominate at the WACA during their heyday, West Indies simply aren't a drawcard and lack marquee players. Marketing this event has not been easy.
When Perth missed out on hosting an Ashes Test last summer, due to its hard border, it was instructive that WA Cricket chief executive Christina Matthews publicly campaigned to host South Africa this season.
In a notable contrast to years gone by, there is a lack of WA players in the national selection frame despite the state currently dominating men's domestic cricket. The notable exception is Cameron Green who will be the sole WA cricketer playing in the first Test.
Even though on the cusp of superstardom, as he eyes riches in the IPL, Green is still relatively unknown to the masses as the unassuming 23-year-old starts slowly becoming more comfortable in the public spotlight.
As he prepares for his first home Test, Green has been something of a hook to fuel media coverage of the match, fronting the cameras several times in recent weeks and given a lengthy profile in the magazine of the local Sunday newspaper.
It was noteworthy press for cricket, which has increasingly been pared back in Perth amid a saturation of coverage for the obsessively followed Australian Football League, which has eaten into cricket season with its never-ending post-season transactional period.
The two-day AFL draft, where the best youngsters are selected into the system, concludes on Tuesday and has predictably dominated the local airwaves and print.
Anticipation for a long-awaited Test in Perth has been tempered too by a number of international matches having already been played there well before it is officially summer.
It will likely cause a chuckle from those on the other side of the country, but there could already be international cricket fatigue in Perth after hosting five games of the men's T20 World Cup, highlighted by an India-South Africa blockbuster and Australia-Sri Lanka in matches attracting a combined 70,000 fans.
There was also a quickly forgotten Australia-England T20I before that in early October, which more than 25,000 attended, consistent with the mishmash of a saturated international calendar that most people can't keep track of.
But, perhaps most importantly, it's increasingly difficult to pinpoint the public sentiment over the current Australian team, who some believe are on the nose nationwide after they generated modest home support during the T20 World Cup.
There has been some ire directed at captain Pat Cummins, reasons which don't totally make sense, but could chip away at the team's overall popularity.
It all means there is the potential awkwardness of Australia getting a frosty reception on home soil. But given the apparent apathy for this inconspicuous Test, that's probably unlikely.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth