During the Rolling Stones’ tour of Australia, legendary drummer and famous cricket enthusiast Charlie Watts followed the well-worn path of many a tourist in Perth. He had his picture taken in front of the WACA ground.
“He was taking a picture on a corner outside the ground because he didn’t think he would be allowed in,” WA Cricket chief executive Christina Matthews laughed in an interview with ESPNcricinfo.
The rather amusing story underscores the global veneration of the WACA, the old warhorse enshrined in cricket lore for its fast pace and bouncy pitch that has inspired some of the sport’s most iconic images.
“The name is the unique selling point of our ground and what makes it world famous,” Matthews said. “What happened in the name and in between is something you can’t buy. Those are the things we have to protect.”
What they saw was an aging ground with a major renovation underway with the famous Prandole stand and the grass bank below the famous scoreboard now resembling a construction site.
The WACA is set to be transformed into a multi-sport community facility, featuring a public swimming pool, playground and café, while seating 10,000-15,000 for events.
The project was initially estimated at AU$115 million, but has fallen due to rising construction costs following the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Matthews says about $32 million is still needed, with the hope that these funds will come from the Western Australian Government’s budget, which will be delivered in May.
If all goes according to plan, the redevelopment will be completed by the back end of 2025 – a year behind the initial timeframe.
“I’m pretty confident we’ll get there. If we don’t, we’ll just have to look at it,” Matthews said. “It will be a real community destination that will be the base for its first-class cricket.”
Although parts of the ground are under eyes, the WACA continues to host men’s and women’s domestic cricket while several matches of the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup were played there.
But men’s international cricket and the Big Bash League have not been held at the WACA since 2017-18 and there has been uncertainty over whether Test cricket will return to the venue.
Mathews confirmed that high-profile Tests involving England, India, New Zealand, South Africa and possibly Pakistan would be permanently scheduled at the Optus Stadium, with others set for the redeveloped WACA.
But fixing the perennial date on the calendar has proved difficult for Perth with Tests played every month from October-February since 1997.
We believe that if we are given more freedom to run Tests, perhaps we can achieve better results for Cricket Australia. That doesn’t mean we’re badass, but it’s embedded in our planning process.
This is unlike other major cities that have built tradition around their Tests to create consistency and become a drawcard for fans.
“There are three Tests with significant stakes at the ground; New Year’s and Gene McGrath Day in Sydney, Boxing Day in Melbourne and Adelaide’s first-choice day-night match,” Matthews said. “Brisbane and us kind of float…although Brisbane often starts the Test summer.
“We want a bit more security around our Test. Is there anything we can do so the people of Perth know they’re going to do something other than a cricket match? What’s the point of our Test?”
Mathews believed that mid-December was the best time for the Perth Test, with WA Cricket pushing to host Pakistan next summer.
“We strongly believe that holding the Test match before Christmas is best for us,” he said. “Given the way. [to Perth] From England and elsewhere… and then off to the East Coast for Boxing Day and New Years [Tests]it is practical.
“Then people will realize ‘OK, this is when you’re having your test… say in December before Boxing Day’.”
The unusual turnout in Perth’s first Test since 2019 was due to a number of reasons, including a lack of marketing ahead of the opening Test of the summer.
“Other than our membership base, we have nothing to do with Test when they [Cricket Australia] Matthews said.
“We believe that if we were given more freedom to run Tests, maybe we could get better results for Cricket Australia. That’s not to say we’re bullies, but it’s part of our planning process. goes
“There’s a national marketing campaign every year, and that’s very common. We think Perth needs to have something specific about why people should come to international cricket.”
Mathews missed the Test match amid a month-long holiday following the tax period, which included a series of board resignations and unrest among several WA legends.
“There’s no doubt that, if you want to call it the old guard, [they] Maybe want to do things differently. The question is — what do they want to do differently and how do they want to do it?” Matthews said. “I can’t think of an area where we’re not excelling. Our member retention rate was 90% this year as well. . So that tells you people are on board, not against what we’re doing.
“There’s no doubt that the upheaval of the last six months has come from an older population. But that’s not the majority view.”
Mathews, who played 20 Tests and 47 ODIs between 1984-95, wanted to attract more women to WA Cricket’s membership base.
He said that due to the model of buying membership and guest card, we have less number of women members. “Historically, men bought the membership and the guest pass was for the women.
“I think the challenge for us is how to get more women to commit to becoming members, not guests of a member. We want everyone to come to cricket, not just traditionalists.”
Matthews hoped to defy his critics for more than a decade.
“As long as we’re trying to embed growth, it would be remiss of me to move forward,” he said. “We are trying to maintain this ground as an important part of the WACA’s history and to be seen as a modern facility around the world.”
Tristan Lovelette is a journalist based in Perth.