THE RAPIDLY ageing, headline-making WACA Ground hosts its last Ashes Test from Thursday. KEN PIESSE reports:
IGNORE FOR a moment the imperfections, the peeling paint, the tram tracks on the wicket and the limited capacity. As an international venue for the feature games, the WACA Ground’s facilities may no longer cut muster, but the old girl’s pace, fire and sheer presence will be missed by traditionalists, young and old.
This week’s Perth Test match remains at the WACA on default, with the nearby Perth Stadium involved from the New Year with an already sold-out OD next month.
All future “big” Tests will be played at the new stadium on the other side of the Swan. It could be that this pre-Christmas fixture is the very last at the famed WACA.
I was at the WACA for last summer’s springtime Test against the South Africans. I’d arrived early and visited the city bookshops before catching one of the many buses heading down Hay Street.
The clamor and interest for the cricket was extraordinary, even if Australia caved in after having dominated the first four sessions.
It was easy to circumnavigate the ground, along the way waving to the Richies, the Perth branch of the Richie Benaud Appreciation Society who were gathering on Day 2 in the Inverarity Stand for their annual day of celebration.
The WACA’s Test Players Walk is a delight and includes the West’s first Test player John Rutherford and all the other WA Test representatives, both men and women, in chronological order.
A past players reunion was in full swing out the back, Australia’s selection chairman Rod Marsh (he was still then in the job), enjoying the company of oldies but goodies like Terry Alderman, Tony “Rocket” Mann, Ian Brayshaw and many of the lads from the 70s.
We saw Steven Smith crucially given out lbw to a straight break when he was yards down the wicket. Replays showed the decision had been correct… just. But what happened to the old maxim if in doubt it’s not out?
Smith had to move on and maybe we all have to as well, across the “snake bridge” to the new Perth Stadium with its state-of-the-art facilities and accommodation for 60,000-plus.
But the memories remain. It was in Perth where I was able to chat for half an hour with the legendary Len Hutton one free-and-easy morning. On the Saturday of that game, stirrers with the English flag jogged past the Aussie supporters. One decided to invade the ground and Alderman fell victim, after an errant tackle.
At the time I was on assignment for the Sunday Observer and the pictures destined for the London Observer were hijacked by our very persuasive chief-of-staff back in Melbourne. It made for a great front page.
It was at the WACA where NZ’s Mark Greatbatch batted a day to save a Test and Dennis Lillee used his infamous aluminum bat before tossing it away in disgust after complaints from England’s captain Mike Brearley.
Later Mike signed the bat and added the rider: “Good luck with the sales.”
It was here at the WACA where Merv Hughes took a hat-trick — and had to be told by teammates of his feat.
Given England’s mediocre record at the ground, it could be that the Ashes are about to be decided… and maybe inside time by Sunday afternoon.
Australia’s attack is simply too fast and too talented, even if the home team’s batting is still very much a work in progress.
SPORTSHOUNDS READY RECKONER
THE WACA & THE ASHES
Ground capacity: 23,500
Ends: Lillee-Marsh (south), Prindiville Stand (north, named after Bernie Prindiville, a past president of the WACA).
First Ashes Test: 1970-71.
Australia’s record v England: Played 13: Won 9, Lost 1, Drawn 3.
Last five Ashes Tests: Australia 5-0.
Highest team scores: Australia: 5-527 dec., 2006-07; England: 8-592 dec., 1986-87.
Highest solo scores: Australia: Ian Redpath 171, 1970-71; England: Chris Broad 162, 1986-87.
Best bowling: Australia: Craig McDermott 8-97, 1990-91; England: Ian Botham 6-78, 1979-80.
Last time: Ben Stokes announces himself as a young player on the rise with a buccaneering 120, but England goes down big-time.
Local hero: Gilly, just ahead of DK Lillee.
Stats fact: England last won here in 1978-79 against a third-strength Australian XI.
Steve Smith’s average here: 46.
Expect: The fastest wicket of the summer and capacity crowds on the first four days swelled by the thousands of overseas visitors crossing the Nullarbor. The Barmy Army should be at their strongest… and most vocal.
Author: Ken Piesse
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. He has written, edited and published more than 70 sports books. Signed copies of his latest cricket book Heroes of the Hour, cricket’s quintessential moments from Bradman and Lillee to Warne and Steve Smith, is available from www.cricketbooks.com.au