Matagarup is the name of the bridge that connects the WACA in East Perth to Perth Stadium in Burswood. But they are more like two worlds. On the one hand, the old, glorious but stubborn version of cricket refused to keep up with the times until it chose to move on. The Lilly-Marsh Stand still survives its attack, but the edges of the Langer Lift, the benches at the edge of the now sand-covered grass banks, are rusting.
The Prindiville and Inverarity stands were vandalized and one of the six floodlights was dismantled. Update is coming soon. The WACA as we know and hear is gradually paving the way for a modern, top class cricket ground for Western Australia and its community. Only, he will never play international cricket again. The reasons are clear. The WACA barely holds 20,000, Perth Stadium holds around 60,000. The premises are bigger, the amenities are better and the general atmosphere is great. But nothing about it screams cricket.
It’s another of those modern, concrete behemoths without a heart or soul – a members’ pavilion with home and visitors’ dressing rooms, no grassy hills or embankments and stands named after former cricketers. Even the media center is named after respected sports commentator Dennis Cometti, who played and coached Australian rules. In fact, this stadium – true to its multi-purpose label – could host a cricket match today, an Australian Rules match tomorrow and a U2 concert the day after.
Excavating its entire diameter is a cavernous underpass where people are asked to walk behind a yellow line on both sides so that buses, trailers, forklifts, trolleys and cars can move between them. No complicated wood or iron gates, but industrial grade steel and aluminum roller shutters. You don’t know which side is the curator’s room or the administration block.
All are mechanized, with serial numbers and identification codes. Most of the gates are locked, there’s no one to tell you where to go, and all the tunnels give way to similar intersections of terrain—multiple layers of concrete, seats matching a uniform color scheme, and giant hanging screens. It rose so high and strong that Fremantle Dr. was not allowed even a thread to pass through. Evenness is depressing.
WACA lets you breathe easy again. Pakistan came to train in the shadow of the towers and the scoreboard proudly bearing the gay pride flag. Merchants of Speed begin to whisper at a high rate. Babar Azam looks to play off-spin as Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh and others arrive for a meeting at the old offices in Western Australia. Everything seemed to be where they were supposed to be. Only the land around them is not the same.
The cold wind from the swan will be remembered for a lifetime. Justin Langer, with the wind at his back, hit Shoaib Akhtar with intent to his crease as he raced to bowl. Norman Cowens lost his helmet trying to avoid Dennis Lillee’s bouncer in the 1982-83 Ashes Test. Jon Snow gave hell to Australia’s battles. The unplayable, impossible Wasim Akram jumper that almost took David Boon’s head off? It happened here.
One of Australia’s newer venues, the WACA, has come and gone from our collective memory just like that. No one could have predicted this death, especially not after it became the third place to install floodlights after Melbourne and Sydney. It was never very comfortable for spectators, providing very little shade from the intense sunlight. But even when it was worn down, it had character. The height of the game was fast, and the afternoon was faster when the sun went down in Western Australia. Until the doctor comes.
Now only stories remain. A picture of Lilly on the wall near the main entrance is a reminder of its glorious past. Like the Truman Entrance and the giant scoreboard. Geoff Marsh, Wood, Langer, Inverarity, Hughes, Shepherd, Moody, Yardley, Mackenzie, Lilly, Rod Marsh, Alderman – these names are still proudly mentioned. Standing under the scoreboard, he wondered what it would be like for a fan to watch cricket from there.
Michael Holding scored 76 against Australia in 1984, Glenn McGrath took 8/24 against Pakistan in 2004, Curtley Ambrose took 7/25 against Australia – here are the reels. It was not Australia’s favorite place. It was the mainstay of fast bowlers.