Can the WACA survive as a Test venue?

Date: September 4, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

WACAThe famed WACA Ground, as we know it, will soon be no more.

The Association’s board will tomorrow announce its future plans for the ground.

In a pre-emptive strike WACA President Dennis Lillee announced his resignation yesterday. His parting words would have provided little solace for the members, stating that, “I cannot stand by and watch what is happening at the WACA. I do not wish to part of it any longer”.

It is anticipated that the current board will announce that Perth Stadium, a 60,000-seat venue that is under construction and due to open for the start of the 2018 AFL season, will play host to future one-day internationals and Big Bash League matches.

Should that be the case the WACA will be left with only one Test match a year and five Sheffield Shield matches given the recent move by Cricket Australia to play the domestic one-day series in one East Coast location in the month of October each year.

Should those fixtures become the staple diet for the ground into the future the question as to how the ground can survive economically is a major issue.

The other mainland venues that play host to Test cricket each summer are dual tenanted with the Gabba, MCG, SCG and Adelaide Oval all utilised for AFL fixtures.

In the case of the MCG it is utilised at least twice a weekend while the Adelaide Oval hosts an AFL game every weekend through the winter.

Bellerive Oval in Hobart, which is not always utilised as a Test venue each year, now plays host to two North Melbourne home games each season with the prospect of more into the future. It is also used for matches in the state-based Australian Football league as well.

The WACA, on the other hand, is set to be utilised potentially for just 25 days of sport each year. Twenty of those days will encompass the Western Warriors’ five home Sheffield Shield matches.

Needless to say, the domestic first-class competition is hardly a cash cow. Recent CA fixturing has seen numerous Shield matches played exclusively on weekdays, and even when games span the weekend, aggregate four-day crowds at the WACA rarely surpass 5000.

Last season, for the first time since the WACA hosted its inaugural Test in the summer of 1970-71, it was overlooked.

With the staging of the World Cup at the end of the season CA could attract only one nation – India – that was keen to play a Test series down under.

The Indians agreed to play four matches which meant one of the five regular mainland venues would be left off the itinerary. Much to the chagrin of West Australian cricket fans it was the WACA that missed out.

There is no doubting that the WACA, with respect to facilities and amenities, is the least hospitable of the mainland Test grounds – in fact it has fallen way behind the standards set by the venues east of the Nullarbor.

Sadly, over many decades various redevelopments of the ground have been attempted and none has truly served the venue or the fans well.

The West Australian government has made it clear that it will no longer contribute public funds to further development at the ground.

Several years back the WACA board entered into a radical plan to hive off part of the land encircling the ground to developers who would construct a $500m high-rise apartment and commercial precinct.

The bold plan, which was to provide the association with an ongoing revenue stream, was abandoned in 2013 but not before it cost the already fiscally challenged association $7 million.

The venue – which was opened in 1893 – is quite possibly facing extinction with the move of larger ticket items to the new Perth Stadium.

Relocating Test cricket to the new venue is anathema to most cricket fans given the iconic status the WACA Ground holds internationally.

Whenever I was traveling in the sub-continent with the Australian team during my time at the ABC as soon as I mentioned I was from Perth the locals eyes lit up and they gushed about the fast, bouncy pitch which is universally remembered as the most pace-friendly venue in the cricket world.

Over the last 25 years the WACA has had other sports as tenants. Prior to 1997 when Subiaco Oval had lights installed the WACA played host to six to eight AFL night matches each season. In the mid-1990s the Western Reds (later the Perth Reds) were based at the WACA.

The WAFL Football League and the Perth Heat, WA’s representative in the Australian Baseball League, both staged matches at the WACA. The Perth Glory’s early final matches in the then National Soccer League were played at the WACA.

Nowadays, those codes have all moved.

If the WACA does announce tomorrow that only Test and Shield matches will remain at the ground it is difficult to see how the venue can remain a viable ongoing operation into the future.

It will be a sad day when – and it appears it will be a case of when – Test cricket is no longer played at the WACA Ground but the simple economics indicates it will likely be a fait accompli.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 3 September 2015, soliciting 57 comments