When Australia and England take their steps into the WACA field on Thursday, that will be for one final time they will lock horns in the Western Australian stadium. Since the English men have only won a single Test in nearly 50 years at the venue, they will recollect the catastrophic past and prepare themselves to deal with some more in the coming five days, on the other hand, Australians will be welted with nostalgia. WACA, a ground with rich cricketing history is set to bow out with one last Ashes encounter to allow Cricket Australia to choose comfort over golden yesteryears.
Keeping up with the current trend of picturesque stadiums, more people will be delighted to head to the stadium across the river for an ecstatic view and then suddenly the ageing bland terraces of WACA will seem outdated.
Future Australia’s series against England, South Africa, India and Perth Scorchers’ Big Bash League matches will be hosted by 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. However, Cricket Australia have decided to continue Australia’s series against other nations and women’s cricket at the 15,000-seat WACA. As cricket in Western Australia is all set to welcome a new cricketing era, one of its dearest former players, Justin Langer said, “I hope it remains the hub of cricket in Western Australia, that’s very important.”
Langer among several other cricketers like, Geoff Marsh, Tom Moody and Kim Hughes, has closely watched WACA grow old. It goes back to 1880, when a gardener from England, William Henry Wise, laid the first-ever turf wicket at the WACA. Soon after that, the matches began in the stadium but due to connectivity problems between Western and Eastern Australia, Australia’s big matches were not held there. Only when scheduled flights to Western Australia were introduced, Australia played its first Test at the WACA. A total of 47 years have passed since that and today, WACA is considered to be the fastest and the bounciest wicket in the sport of cricket.
Out of top 10 fastest Test centuries, four of those have been scored at the WACA, latest being Hashim Amla’s. The South African smashed an 89-ball hundred in the 2012-13 series. Adam Gilchrist’s record 59-ball 102 not out was also in Perth. Gilchrist still holds the record for the fastest Ashes ton as no other England or Australian has even managed to score a century under 100 balls. Australia have a hundred percent record against England at the WACA in the nine Tests they have played at the stadium since 1974.
Among the other memorable performances at the WACA surely came when the lanky Curtley Ambrose outclassed a strong Australian batting lineup in one of the most destructive spells of fast bowling in the history of Test cricket. Ambrose bagged seven wickets for 1 run in a 32-ball spell in 1993 in the final and deciding Test at Perth.
Then there was the debut of Glenn McGrath that stood right on the top of the ground’s decorated background. McGrath played his first Test for Australia against New Zealand in 1993 at Perth. McGrath, who ended with three wickets in the Test, went on to establish himself as one of the greatest to have played the game for Australia.
While WACA has been no less than a graveyard for England, there have been a few teams that have pulled out their moments from the fast tricky tracks in Perth. Team India has its own share of WACA memories to cherish; one of those being when a 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar had announced himself on the Australian soils as well. Amidst a poor performance from his side, a young lad showed immense resistance as he managed to last at the crease for more than two hours. His century at WACA still remains one of his finest knocks as it showed how things can get simple for a batsman if he sticks to his technique and keeps things straightforward.
Then there is India’s win at Perth in 2008 just after the forgettable Sydney Gate. Although, India had lost the series eventually, a win following the controversial Sydney Test was much needed for the men in blue.
From Curtly Ambrose’s spell of seven-for in 1993, McGrath’s debut the same year, Sachin’s hundred a year before to Dennis Lillee bringing an Aluminium bat in an Ashes Test, the WACA has a million memories to look back at since its establishment in 1890. The most significant detail here is that WACA has chronicled these valuables in a graceful manner.
Every cricket fan makes a list of dream stadiums where he would wish to watch live Test cricket. Let alone an ardent Australian cricket fan, WACA would be on every cricket fan’s bucket list. For the fans, who have not been lucky enough to full-fill that wish, now can never live it. (Nobody would burn the pocket for smaller contests). The stadium has been a worthy trip not just for the game of cricket but also for the fact that every nook and corner oozes with some rich history. It is one of those rare stadiums that has documented the precious contributions of some of their best Western Australian players.
Entering into the Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA), one can sense their emotional pride in history. The most impressive feature is witnessed on non-match days when the scoreboard comprises names of the best West Australian players: Geoff Marsh, Graeme Wood, Justin Langer, John Inverarity, Kim Hughes, Barry Shepherd, Tom Moody, Bruce Yardley, Graham aka Garth McKenzie, Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh (wk) and Terry Alderman (12th man). On non-match days, this line-up is always on the scoreboard and this tradition has been followed without fail.
The iconic scoreboard was built in 1954 after the previous one was destroyed by a storm. Sixty-three years have passed, the scoreboard is still in operation; it is placed behind the grass mounds and can be seen from all corners of the ground. When you walk around, you would see boards of various special performances from Western Australian cricketers. When you enter the stadium from Gate 2, there is a water refilling station that has a board that reads, “This is the water that Langer and Co. grew up on.”
In every possible way, the WA Cricket Association has expressed how much their cricketers mean to them.
There is no doubt, they will try and make the upcoming Ashes WACA Test as special as they can. While the atmosphere and conditions both would favour the home side, the England team will fight nightmares from their last visit to the WACA. The George Bailey over from Australia’s second innings will haunt James Anderson. Apart from the third ball of the over, all the other five balls were smashed for either a four or a six. Taking 28 runs alone off an Anderson over, Bailey had remained not out on 39 off 30 balls. Then there was ending of a career too.
Graeme Swann, one of England’s senior players on that tour, already had conceded 500-plus runs in three Tests. A string of awful performances and failing to create any impact, Swann made things worse in the English camp when he announced retirement mid-series.
While one England journalist described WACA as England’s Ashes necropolis, the cruellest of grounds, a theatre of nightmares, the Australian cricket team has had a decorated journey with the WACA. The stadium has attracted fondness largely because of the afternoon sea breeze, affectionately termed “The Fremantle Doctor”, which provides repose for fielding sides from the scorching heat or those frazzling in the old stands for little shade. So, before the new Perth Stadium, visible from WACA’s Lillee-Marsh stand, takes over the majority of job, let WACA one final time be one of the best hosts of Test cricket.