Earlier this month, living legend Dennis Lillee, one of Australia’s greatest fast bowlers, quit his post as President of the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) after an eleven year reign.
Lillee told the Western Australian paper,
I cannot stand by and watch what is happening at the WACA.
“I do not wish to be part of it any longer.”
Lillie’s shock resignation seems to be linked to the recommendations founded in the WACA Vision 2030 report for the ageing WACA ground.
The WACA Board have already confirmed that International fixtures (One-Day Internationals and Tests) against South Africa, India and England, plus Big Bash matches, are to be moved to the new billion dollar stadium in Burswood, set to open in 2018.
That would mean that matches against nations other than South Africa, India and England would still be played at the WACA, as well as Sheffield Shield games (Australia’s domestic red ball competition).
Cricket is a game sometimes locked in tradition. And for those who have played the game, we occasionally struggle with progress required to ensure the longevity of our sport.
James Sutherland, chief executive of Cricket Australia, is supportive of the details revealed in the Vision 2030 report.
It has been a long term goal of Cricket Australia to put the fans first and this move would certainly fit into that mould.
Currently the WACA seats just under 25,000, with the new stadium set to more than double in capacity to 60,000. The new stadium will sit along other Test cricketing stadiums in Australia, making cricket available to many more fans, especially the local Sandgropers who love coming out in their droves to support their team.
WACA’s chairman Sam Gannon said in an article on the Cricket Australia website, “to do nothing was not an option.” The move to the new stadium, according to Gannon and his fellow board members, was critical for the survival of the WACA ground.
Despite the WACA’s chief executive Christina Matthew stating that the drop-in pitch for the new stadium would replicate the distinctive bounce and pace of the WACA wicket, the new stadium will not typify everything the WACA brings.
For instance, I expect the new stadium will have stands all the way around. Therefore, the Fremantle Doctor won’t come blustering in between the stands, during the afternoon, to assist the spinners in their impact on the game. Plus, the families who sit on the hill and enjoy the game on a picnic rug, whilst their children replicate the events of the match in their own style, will now have to sit in seats and wait till they get home to practice their skills.
It is all those reasons, and probably a few more, that past players such as Lillee will struggle with changes recommended in Western Australia.
Yet it isn’t the first time that cricket has had to evolve to compete against the other sports, vying for participants, volunteers, sponsors and fans.
When Twenty20 cricket was first introduced in this country at a domestic level, NSW enlisted a rugby league star, Andrew Jones, to take the field for NSW. It was seen by most as a media stunt and NSW not taking the game seriously. However, what it did was fill the stadium with rugby league fans, some of whom were hopefully converted to cricket.
I still remember the first T20 International Australia played, against New Zealand, where players dressed in World Series cricket uniforms that were worn back in the 80s, had nicknames on the back of their shirts, and saw it as the comical version of the game.
Things have certainly progressed since then with T20 cricket being seen by all as the real money earner for the longevity of the sport. Not only does it provide a format where families can come out and enjoy the game, as well as be entertained by the likes of fireworks, cheerleaders etc., it also educates new supporters about the (complicated) basics of cricket.
Additionally, it is a chance for the players to earn the big bucks with so many domestic T20 competitions being played, especially in the Indian Premier League.
I am sure that there are still past players and supporters of the game who haven’t warmed to the shortest format of the game. I would like to hope that they can see past their own preference and acknowledge that the game, from a supporter’s point of view, has risen because of T20 cricket.
Similarly, in the women’s game, the Ashes were only contested in Test cricket. Nonetheless, three years ago Cricket Australia and the English Cricket Board decided to bring in a new format for the Ashes that would consist of ODIs, T20s and a one off Test.
At the beginning, I was, personally, not a fan of the new format, believing that you don’t mess with a product that has been successful and steeped in tradition. What I was blind to, at the time, was that the interest created by this change would resonate with the supporters and allow interest in the game to coincide with the men’s Ashes, which would provide further opportunities to grow the women's game.
Having just returned from England, I highlighted in my previous article that, the level of coverage of the women’s game throughout the recent Ashes blew me away. The coverage of the games on all media platforms was the highest that I have ever seen.
Although the pill of change can sometimes be hard to swallow for us all, history has shown that when cricket has morphed to keep up with our ever changing environment, it has been hugely successful for the game, players, administrators, and most importantly, for the fans.
I am sure under the helm of Christina Matthews that the WACA ground will still play an important part in developing our cricketers, but also providing the stakeholders of the game a new and exciting venue to watch the game.