Iconic WACA prepares for life after Ashes
PERTH (Reuters) – A ground rich with cricketing history but wanting of modern comforts will take its final Ashes bow when Australia host England in the third test at the WACA on Thursday.
Australia’s pace bowlers will hope to make England’s last visit a forgettable one for their batsmen on a wicket renowned as one of the world’s fastest and bounciest.
Future Ashes contests will be held at the shiny, new Perth Stadium on the opposite bank of the Swan River, a 60,000-seat arena that will use a drop-in pitch, host rock concerts and share tenancy with two Australian Rules football teams.
The 22,000-capacity WACA will remain a cricket venue but only host lower-profile internationals, having fallen behind the standards of rival stadiums around the country.
Fans seeking a ‘state-of-the-art’ viewing experience may be glad to head across the river and leave the WACA’s bland terraces and ageing facilities behind.
England may also be happy to move on from a venue where they have won only once in nearly 50 years of tests.
Of the rest of those matches, most have been painful defeats, including the last visit in 2013/14 when Michael Clarke’s side thrashed Alastair Cook’s tourists by 150 runs to reclaim the Ashes.
England will march out on Thursday facing the same 2-0 predicament that weighed on Cook’s men but Joe Root’s team can draw little inspiration from recent history.
The last time the English won at the WACA was in 1978, against an Australia team left threadbare by the World Series Cricket rebellion.
As forgettable as the WACA experience has been for England, it has been mostly glorious for Australia, and the backdrop for some classic, comical and quite bizarre Ashes moments since the first test between the teams in 1970.
England batsman Brian Luckhurst holds the distinction of scoring the WACA’s first Ashes century with his 301-ball knock of 131 in that drawn first test.
Australians, however, may remember the match as the arrival of one of the game’s rarest talents when Greg Chappell, batting at number seven, scored 108 on debut.
Adam Gilchrist’s 57-ball century in the 2006 win against England set an Ashes record that still stands and ranks as one of the most destructive batting displays in test cricket.
Fast bowler Denis Lillee made his mark in Australia’s win in the 1979 test by striding out to the crease with an aluminium bat made by a business partner.
He faced a few balls from Ian Botham before the match paused for 10 minutes as the umpires demanded he swap the metallic bat for a wooden one.
“It was against, if not the rules, all expectations,” said Tony Barker, a historian commissioned by the WACA to write a book about the ground.
“He got into a lot of strife about that — and a lot of ridicule from the English team at the time.”
In the heated atmosphere of the 1982 test, Australia seamer Terry Alderman suffered a calamitous shoulder injury when he tackled a crowd invader after a number of spectators leapt onto the turf.
Greg Chappell led his team off the ground and police arrested dozens in the crowd for unruly behaviour. The injury set Alderman’s career back years.
Alderman notwithstanding, seam bowlers have usually thrived at the WACA where an afternoon sea breeze known as the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ provides additional assistance to the pace and bounce.
“Never underestimate how important that sea breeze is because when you’re batting from the far end and there’s a fast bowler running from behind it, it’s quite intimidating,” former test batsman and Western Australia coach Justin Langer told Reuters.
Left-arm pacemen, particularly, enjoy the conditions, as Mitchell Johnson would attest.
The retired quick took six wickets to help beat England in the 2013 match and had nine victims in 2010, Australia’s only win in the dreary 3-1 series defeat.
The WACA may yet be the backdrop to further definitive moments in international cricket but will only welcome fans, ironically, when not enough of them are expected to turn up to the new stadium.
Western Australia state’s sports minister Mick Murray said the two grounds could co-exist but suggested the WACA would need some measure of renewal.
“Over a period of time I think the interface between the two stadiums themselves will become special,” he told Reuters.
”Nobody wants to go to a big stadium if there’s only 10,000 people there … You’ve lost that atmosphere.
“But you put 10,000 at the WACA, if there’s redevelopment there, you’ll make that a place to be.”
As cricket in Western Australia enters a new era, Langer expressed a personal desire for the ground where he scored 711 test runs, including two centuries, to continue hosting matches.
“I hope it remains the hub of cricket in Western Australia, that’s very important,” he said.