The news that Test cricket will be taken away from the WACA hasn’t exactly come as a surprise. Last year, due to the World Cup, the Australian Test summer was reduced to just four matches. With Sydney and the MCG locked in, plus Adelaide Oval finally ready after a billion dollar facelift, that left a straight shootout between the Gabba (capacity 42,000, facilities decent) and the WACA (capacity 24,500, facilities almost non-existent) for the final match. Unsurprisingly, Cricket Australia plumped for the former, leaving Western Australia with the consolation prize of the final of the preceding ODI tri-series, a match in which England were humiliated by Australia once again, a result that surprised absolutely nobody.
The writing has been on the wall for the WACA for some time. During the last Ashes the ground received something of a kicking in the press, the combination of prehistoric facilities, a complete lack of shade and five days well above forty degrees adding up to some fairly horrendous conditions for the majority of spectators. Of course, those of us in the know bought tickets in the Inverarity stand, where the shade starts from row H onwards, but not everyone can be blessed with such intimate local knowledge.
With the ground in desperate need of an upgrade – the best thing that can be said about last year’s sabbatical was that it at least ended three years of consecutive slushie machine failures – but no cash available after a plan to develop apartments around the WACA fell through due to a lack of interest, something had to give. And with the new Perth Stadium (officially named Perth Stadium in a move that could be generously described as unexciting) set to open in 2018 with a capacity of around 60,000, moving the major internationals and Big Bash games became inevitable.
While cricket romantics will lament the passing of one of a unique cricketing venues, the reality is this: watching cricket at the WACA is often shit. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a seat in one of the small sections with some shade from the blistering West Aussie sun, you still have to contend with the cramped walkways (often blocked by the queue for the bar), lack of toilet facilities and the genuinely confusing seat numbering system (ignore the numbers printed on the ground altogether, just concentrate on the ones on the actual seats themselves).
On top of that, there’s the rubbish old scoreboard. Yes it’s an impressive feat to have everything manually updated – right down to a little light to tell you who’s fielding the ball at any given time – but it’s an absolute pain in the arse to read. And heaven forbid you should be sat in the temporary seating – made out of the most reflective metal you could imagine and set at 90 degrees to the scoreboard – and want to actually know the score.
Living in Perth (as this author does), it seems blasphemous to badmouth the home of local cricket. But no amount of nostalgia can alter the fact that moving to a modern ground cannot be a bad thing. The increased capacity will be a massive boost for Big Bash games – Scorchers tickets usually have about ten minutes on sale before they’re all gone – and should help bring a new generation of West Australians to top level cricket. If cricket involving 92 year old Brad Hogg can ever truly be described as top level, that is.
Realistically, there is no future for single purpose cricket grounds at the highest level. The costs of running a stadium that only makes serious money on nine or ten days of the year are just too high. From experience, this author could talk in detail about the enormous cost of running floodlights, but we suspect that most readers might just kill themselves if that came to pass. Instead we’ll just point out that there has to be a separate source of income, whether that’s from sharing with other sports (such as Aussie rules) or having conference or hotel facilities. The WACA has spent a good few years utterly failing to come up with any of these other income sources and now finds itself facing a future of being a boutique ground, a relic from the old days when aluminium bats seemed like a good idea.
On the plus side, we hope this means that they keep the pitch as it is, otherwise we’ll miss out on comedy like this: