The 2013/14 Ashes must have been hellish for those brave souls who made the journey from the UK all the way over to Australia. Apart from missing out on sitting inside with the heating turned up to maximum every night while watching English cricket literally die on their TV screens, the poor old Barmy Army and chums had to endure a number of hardships: they had to mingle with Australians, many of them wearing full on Movembers, for a start. But perhaps the biggest hardship came in Perth, as England surrendered the Ashes after five chastening days in 40 degree heat.
Being based in Perth, this correspondent was lucky enough to attend four of those five days, sensibly deciding to go to work rather than attend the fifth. And it’s from that experience (the cricket bit, not going to work) that we bring you the fourth in our extremely popular ‘Around The Grounds’ series, as requested by Editor Steve at short notice to cash in on the series’ popularity. We think this is because one of the three preceding articles in the series actually has two whole comments against it.
Within Australia, the city of Perth has a reputation for being a sleepy country town that has boomed due to Western Australia’s emphasis on digging stuff out of the ground and flogging it to China. As a result, it lacks some of the modern feel of the likes of Melbourne or Sydney. The WACA takes that to its logical extreme: it feels like a local (Aussie rules) football oval that just happens to host Test cricket once a year. Apart from this year, when it won’t even have that honour, having been squeezed out from India’s four Test tour by the Adelaide Oval (which has recently completed a $535m redevelopment) and the Gabba (which hasn’t, but is still better than the WACA).
For all five days of the Test in December, the temperature consistently soared above 40 degrees. To the uninitiated it sounds horrific but the heat in WA is very dry, meaning that it wasn’t actually that bad. As long as you had sensibly bought your tickets for the Inverarity stand, one of the few areas with some actual shade. Those out on the grass banks or on the very reflective metal of the temporary stand were basically baked alive, their overpriced ice-creams destined to last about as long as Gavin Hamilton’s Test career. The week saw a roaring trade in black market sunscreen.
While England struggled out on the pitch, the infrastructure of the WACA struggled around it. The only slushy machine packed up several times on the second day before giving up the ghost completely on the third. With no shade around the ground at all, small children desperately congregated in the shadows of fat people. Queuing for a midstrength beer became a life-threatening challenge, with survivors climbing over a mountain of the dead to hand over their $6.50 for what tasted like Um Bungo gone bad in the sun. It’s fair to say that it wasn’t that much fun out there.
Of course, up in the Inverarity and Prendeville stands, life was very different, the upper classes mingling over a glass or two of fine wine from the Margaret River region, stopping only to occasionally adjust the polo sweaters around their necks. At least that’s how we remember it – the combination of heat and hip-flask gin having reduced us to little more than gibbering wrecks by this point. It might have just been a bunch of drunk bogans shouting abuse.
The food was over-priced and distinctly lacking in options – basically ‘burger’ or ‘chicken burger’ – and the drinks were even worse; the stadium announcer regularly mocked the crowd by suggesting that people “get some shade” and even the Vodafone kiss-cam utterly failed to notice that we’d deliberately sat next to a rather attractive young lady. Plus England were an absolute rabble out on the pitch, Jimmy Anderson being belted for 28 runs in a single over as Australia cruised to victory. It was a fairly chastening experience all round.
The future of the WACA ground itself remains clouded in uncertainty, ironically the only clouds that Perth ever sees during the summer months. The ground only holds around 20,000 people and is used purely for cricket (whereas the likes of the SCG, MCG and Adelaide Oval are all dual-purpose, used for Aussie Rules or one of the rugby codes). This means that it only generates significant income on a handful of days each year, basically just the Tests and a few Big Bash matches. To add to that, there’s a new 60,000 seater stadium being built just down the road for the AFL sides that has already been handed a number of Big Bash games once it opens in a couple of years.
The WACA itself is horribly outdated but the cost of refurbishing it presumably far outweighs the money it can realistically make. Attempts to sell housing around the ground have foundered on the rocks of disinterest, meaning that the ground is stuck in limbo. Debates continue about whether Test cricket will ever actually return there, or if it will have to settle for being a Canberra-style ‘second tier ground’, reduced to hosting ODIs that no-one actually cares about. The fact that there will be a whopping three games in Perth during the 2015 ODI World Cup is perhaps a sign of things to come, which is bad news for any pretend cricket writers currently looking to buy a house nearby.