The WACA Ground will no longer host international matches featuring England, India or South Africa from 2018-19, with all major internationals set to move to the new Perth Stadium. Under a plan announced by the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) on Thursday, the WACA Ground will become a boutique venue that will host only the countries that draw smaller crowds.
Sheffield Shield cricket and domestic limited-overs games will also stay at the WACA Ground, but Big Bash League matches will shift to the Perth Stadium at Burswood, which is expected to be completed by early 2018. The proposed timeline means that 2017-18 might be the last time an Ashes Test is held at the WACA.
Since the ground debuted as a Test venue in 1970, Australia have won 24 of 41 Tests at the WACA, which has been famous for the pace of its pitches. Drop-in pitches will be used at the new stadium, with the aim to replicate as closely as possible the pace and bounce characteristic of the WACA Ground.
The announcement of the new plans comes just two days after former fast-bowling great Dennis Lillee quit his role as president of the WACA. It is believed Lillee wanted all major international matches to remain at the WACA Ground.
The future of the WACA Ground has been the source of great concern for some years. Unlike the MCG, SCG, Gabba and Adelaide Oval, the WACA Ground does not host any sports besides cricket, which has made it difficult to remain financially viable. A plan to generate income by constructing commercial and residential buildings on site at the WACA Ground was abandoned in 2013 due to poor sales.
The WACA Ground has also been in need of an upgrade to its facilities, one of the reasons it was not chosen to host a Test match last summer when only four Tests were played against India. The WACA is hopeful of receiving state funding for an upgrade given its agreement to become a complementary venue to the Perth Stadium, rather than a competitor.
"The recommendations will see growth of cricket at all levels from grassroots to the elite," WACA chairman Sam Gannon said. "We now have the opportunity to showcase the best of world and domestic cricket at two modern stadiums, providing players and spectators with facilities expected for modern sport.
"Cricket patrons in Western Australia acknowledge that the WACA Ground facilities need improving and the WACA board has committed to a clear framework to invest in upgrades and ensure the ongoing viability of the WACA Ground and cricket in Western Australia.
"By adopting the recommendations, the board and management have a clear direction for taking cricket forward. The next stage will be about bringing that vision to reality by refining the structural requirements of the ground, developing a staged building program and securing the funding."
Under the plan, the WACA Ground will become a boutique stadium with a capacity of 10,000 to 15,000, while the Perth Stadium will hold 55,000 to 60,000 spectators. Four drop-in pitches will be used at the new Perth Stadium.
"Prototypes of the drop-ins are being developed with the same soil, clay and grass profile as the existing wickets at the WACA Ground," the WACA's Vision 2030 report said. "The prototype wickets will be placed in the ground at the centre of Gloucester Park and the WACA turf team will be responsible for developing them.
"In addition, at the appropriate time in the maturation process, Warriors players will bowl and bat on them to provide player feedback before the actual wickets are developed. To assist with the development of the wickets Cricket Australia has engaged the former curator at the MCG who is the most experienced in the country in drop-in wicket technology."
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said the new structure for cricket in Western Australia had the support of CA.
"The strategy for Australian cricket is all about putting fans first and that's exactly what this move will do," Sutherland said. "It will provide cricket with world-class facilities for patrons and players and further strengthen our position as Australia's favourite sport."