The end of an era, but the time is right to move on

Tristan Lavalette in Perth

The curtains have closed on Ashes Test cricket at the WACA. After relinquishing the urn following another pummelling in the recently concluded third Test, England will probably be grateful they won’t have to venture to their graveyard of a ground any longer.

Despite the overwhelming nostalgia swirling around the Ashes finale, this isn’t the end of international cricket for the WACA. Test matches not featuring England, India and South Africa are earmarked to be played there. However, there will be a hiatus with India scheduled to kick-off the Australian Test summer next year at the new Perth Stadium, according to Cricbuzz sources. It will be the first-ever Test at the 55,000-seat ground in Burswood and is set to attract record crowds for a Test in Perth.

There is a belief in some quarters that the allure of the Perth Stadium will eventually gobble up almost all Tests and sway even the most ardent WACA faithful. With its abundance of space, toilets, food and beverages facilities, and shade – integral characteristics that the dilapidated WACA is totally bereft of – Perth Stadium is equipped with the necessary creature comforts to lure the pessimists.

For cricket connoisseurs, there are concerns that the unique fast and bouncy characteristics of the famed WACA pitch will not be replicated by the drop-in wickets used at Perth Stadium. Scepticism was heightened when reports surfaced of a sluggish and slow pitch during the ‘soft’ opening between the British Lions and Perth Scorchers on December 13. Undoubtedly, there will be much scrutiny over the state of the wicket when Perth Stadium officially opens for the Australia and England One-Day International on January 28.

Perth Stadium is about to start a new and exciting chapter in Western Australian sport, but right now, there is an afterglow on the WACA after the final Ashes Test, which endured a bizarre fifth-day wet-pitch fiasco to eventually go out with a memorable Australian triumph.

Astoundingly for such a scorching city, the backend of the Test was blighted by inclement conditions that were more familiar to the tourists and marked by rain dances from a desperate Barmy Army. Perth’s bizarre weather ensured a different swansong for a ground normally bathed in sunshine.

There was an outpour of emotion for the WACA during the Test but it is generally loathed by spectators having to endure its uncomfortable innards. Basic amenities such as toilets are inadequate and buying food and beverages can take an eternity. Worse, there is barely any shade provided for the bulk of the ground, which is not only uncomfortable, but presents a major health risk. It is little wonder sunscreen is provided for free around the ground.

It is an iconic landmark in WA’s capital, yet the WACA looks tired and dated. Sadly, the ground has become a symbol of Perth’s neglected past; an eyesore that is an unwanted reminder of failed proposals and redevelopments.

In a straw poll by Cricbuzz, there was inevitable melancholy from WACA members and general spectators but a realisation that it is time to move on from the warhorse of a ground. Rick Simmons, a Perth local, spent days one and two of the third Test in the WACA’s grass banks. The weather wasn’t particularly hot for Perth summer standards, around the mid-20s, but nonetheless, sitting under the sun proved irksome for him after a while. With the new Perth Stadium radiating in the backdrop, Simmons says it is time to move forward.

“It has been a love fest over the WACA, particularly from journalists and commentators from the east, but it is a lot easier to be romantic about this ground from the press box,” he told Cricbuzz. “I didn’t go to the WACA for years because it was always stinking hot during Test matches and it is no fun at all baking under the sun. It’s hard to convince the family to come along too.

“Obviously, I loved the fast and bouncy pitch but that is pretty well gone,” he adds. “It is generally a flat pitch these days, so we have to stop living in the past. I’m excited to watch cricket at Perth Stadium and not have to worry about sunburn, lining up to go to the toilet and waiting in long queues.”

Francis Curro, a WACA member, has for many years watched cricket with his dad at the East Perth ground creating a lifetime of special memories and an everlasting bond. However, Curro says the WACA’s heyday is long over.

“You watch Josh Hazlewood’s spell (on day one) and you suddenly fall in love with the WACA again,” he says. “So, I will miss the pitch although that type of pace and bounce isn’t so common anymore. The truth is the facilities are just so terrible and it is hard to feel sad about cricket moving to the new stadium.

“My dad has been a member of the WACA for 30 years and it’s gotten to a stage that he doesn’t even care anymore about cricket moving somewhere else,” he adds.

Of course, there are still those enraptured about the WACA’s beguile and able to overlook its neglected state. Chamara Seneviratne, also a WACA member, is perhaps the ultimate WACA diehard testament to his attendance of almost every fixture at the ground. Even the WACA’s security guards know his name such is Seneviratne’s regularity.

“It’s a sentimental thing,” he says about the WACA. “The WACA has all these iconic moments. I feel very sad….I think all Tests should be here. I’m in the minority, most of the other members I talk to seem happy about the move.

“But a part of my cricket fandom feels like it is dying off,” he adds.

It may not quite be the death knell but it feels very much like the end of an era for the WACA, a ground which provokes such a wide spectrum of emotions.

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