As originally posted on my Tumblr site just after the events of each Ashes Test in 2013/14 – now only 3 Tests in and the Ashes have already been surrendered… Cricinfo match scorecard here
Perth, Perth: where do it all go wrong? After a very enjoyable first day in Western Australia, it all went downhill from there really. So, let’s start at the beginning then. My first full day in Perth at least was highly enjoyable – pretty hot but not too bad and helped by a relaxing cruise down the Swan River, with a cricket function later, where I heard from luminaries such as Graham Gooch and Glenn McGrath, before then heading to the nearby town of Fremantle to see a gig by Pond (great psych rock band, actually from Perth, who also play in the slightly better known Tame Impala), who were superb, and in a pretty good venue too, sort of like a halfway mix between the Garage and Koko, for those familiar with such London haunts. So, a great first day, putting me in a very good mood for the rest of my stay here.
Then came the weather and the cricket. (And apologies in advance for the negative tone of the next couple of paragraphs…)
Even if not a cricket enthusiast, I imagine that anyone reading this will be well aware that England have now lost the Ashes, after a third heavy defeat in a row at Perth. Although England was once again outplayed and Australia very much deserve to regain the urn (and these are indeed hard words to type), Perth was a lot more challenging to watch than the defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide. Losing the toss for the third time in a row was a bad sign and although England had a good first couple of sessions on day one (as they have in all the Tests), the third day and first session of the fourth day were excruciating to watch. It must be remembered that this England team have been highly successful the last few years so I don’t subscribe to the view that they are all has-beens who were never that good anyway; far from it. However, it is true to say that some of the team look tired and jaded, with those who are freshest to Test cricket seeming the most up for it, such as Root, Carberry and of course Ben Stokes; showing great competitiveness even before his astonishing century that at least gave England fans something to cheer on the last day.
But it wasn’t just the poor cricket from England that made this more taxing to watch than the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests, as we played equally badly there too. It’s to do with the fact that the Waca stadium in Perth is hugely run-down, with shaded areas in the stands only available for members, with the surrounding facilities not offering much in the way of shade either, nor TV screens so you can watch the action away from your seat, which you get at every other Test ground I’ve ever been to. Watching cricket in this ramshackle stadium coincided exactly with a 4 day heat wave in Perth, with record December temperatures each day of approx 40 degrees in the shade, 45 degrees in the sun – where I was sat, along with pretty much all England supporters. Now, I appreciate anyone reading this in a cold and wet England will not have much sympathy and neither do I expect it, but believe you me, this was hot. It did mean that watching all 3 sessions at the ground was pretty impossible so I started to watch the middle session from my hotel or a nearby bar, before returning for the (slightly less melting) final session. The heat also meant that later in the day, around the Waca actually resembled the closing hours of a music festival – full of dishevelled looking types clasping water bottles and looking for shade; an older clientele though, it has to be said. At Brisbane’s Gabba or the Adelaide Oval, the heat would have been manageable, due to covered concourses and the like which make it possible to take a break from the sun; not really an option at the Waca. One final point on the weather: one could tell it was extreme by the heatwave being the main story on the news and in the papers (see photo above), a bit like when we see a bit of snow, or indeed a bit of sun, in England.
On a more positive note, I did quite enjoy Perth’s little brother, Fremantle. Situated a few miles south of Perth and easily accessible via a 25 minutes train ride, Fremantle is an old harbour town, still active in that regard, but also seems to be carving a niche out for itself as a more “relaxed” and “artistic” haven. I went there a couple of times, once for the Pond gig mentioned above, and then on my last day to visit the now closed Fremantle Prison; it just had to be done in Australia. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, it was well worth a visit and not just for making convict jokes to oneself, although of course that was some of the attraction. Anyway, Fremantle seemed to have a much better array of pubs and restaurants all quite near each other, so I would recommend this as an alternative to Perth for anyone visiting Western Australia.
One final point before I go too and this is back to the cricket – England may have lost the Ashes but we can claim a moral victory when it comes to supporting our team. The fifth and final day of the Test, when Australia won the match, the Waca stadium was only half full at best, despite it being the smallest Test venue with a capacity of only 24,000. And amongst this half full stadium, well over half the crowd were English. Even though it was a Tuesday, England winning the Ashes to a half-full ground anywhere in England simply would not happen. It’s strange, as this is completely out of kilter with the dominance that the Ashes has over here on news bulletins, front page of the paper each day when the game is on etc – far more than we see in England as a comparison. As a fan of Test cricket in general (and not just England), this lack of attendance is concerning for its future. That said, now that Australia are playing better again, I have no doubt that there will be about 100,000 people at the MCG for the iconic Boxing Day Test – would be nice for England to at least win the toss once there as a starter.
POSTSCRIPT – Some further reading from The Guardian: Wilting Waca found wanting as Perth’s cricket venue. My thoughts are pretty much identical
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