Leading Edge: A grand arena arises, but it won’t be the WACA


The WACA, where history lives.

Sunday Times


IT’S a funny old place, the WACA, with its thick, brutalist floodlight towers that have more than a bit of Benoni’s Willowmoore Park about them.

And the hodgepodge of stands that look like they have never seen a cloudy day. And the sawn off square boundaries.

And, of course, a pitch that behaves like an unreconstructed Aussie bloke circa 1973, the type who had beer for breakfast and Vegemite toasties for supper, sprinkled islands of tidy language into his stream of swearing, and dished out backslaps to his mate, Bruce, and backside slaps to Bruce’s sheila, Sheila.

Like an aging, hungover Paul Hogan, the pitch isn’t quite as up and at ’em as it was circa 1973. But it is still capable of smacking teams upside the head, like it did to South Africa on Thursday when David Warner blasphemed all over the hallowed vocation of opening the batting.

And on Friday when South Africa took all Australia’s wickets for 86 runs despite Dale Steyn’s removal from the equation.

And yesterday when Dean Elgar and JP Duminy surely batted Australia out of the first test, Dale Steyn or no Dale Steyn.

Subtlety doesn’t dare to tread here, where you can have any reality you like as long as it’s emphatic. 

The SCG is a curious cobbling of the quaint and the cavernous, the MCG a city state where sport rules, the Gabba a vast Tupperware bowl of a non-place, Adelaide Oval a triumph of modern design, and Bellerive Oval so close to the beach it will slip into the Tasman Sea one of these days.

But the WACA is crassness made concrete, a stereotype spat real into the world.

It is, for foreigners, particularly those whose national teams engage in feisty flannelled fooldom with the blokes wearing those frumpy baggy green caps, the most Australian of grounds. 

Here, all on one day in 1979, Sikander Bakht was mankaded by Alan Hurst and Andrew Hilditch was given out handled the ball after he intercepted a throw and offered the orb to the bowler, Sarfraz Nawaz.

Later that year Dennis Lillee wielded an aluminium bat here, and Mike Brearley whinged like a pom.

In 1981, after a mid-pitch collision, Lillee kicked the royal bum of Javed Miandad, who swung a bat in retaliation. It took umpire Tony Crafter to jump in and disarm what Wisden called “one of the most undignified incidents in test history”.

Terry Alderman dislocated a shoulder tackling an invading spectator here in 1982. In 2010 a fan scragged Khalid Latif in the same match in which Shahid Afridi was spotted chomping on the ball.

The profane Merv Hughes earned a test hattrick at the WACA in 1988. The sacred Glenn McGrath did so in 2000.

So there is sadness in the fact that, from 2018, all that history will be displaced and mean less than it does now.

To the east of the WACA and across the Swan River what looks like an enormous glass-clad colander is rising into Perth’s metallic blue sky.

The new stadium will seat 60 000 compared to the WACA’s capacity of 22 000. It will boast two video screens of 340 square metres each – the biggest in Australia – and, importantly in these beery parts, every seat will be equipped with a cupholder.

The ground will be the venue for major test matches in future, games to be played on pitches that, the suits say, “use the same soil profile and turf” as the WACA – which will host only lesser events.

Sounds grand. But it won’t be the WACA.

At least we’ll still have Benoni.


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