"Don't get us fired up and started on that topic" is the general response one receives from the WACA members, staff and the majority of the cricketing fraternity in Perth when asked about the new Stadium in Perth.
The WACA Ground is the traditional home of cricket out in the West. Ever since Perth embraced Test cricket in 1970-71, it has always been the WACA Ground that hosted all the matches. It resides on the bank of the Swan River approximately a kilometer east of the city center. There is so much history associated with the place. The sight of a wicket-keeper collecting a ball above his head, the pitch cracking ferociously in the later stages of a Test match and terms such as the Fremantle Doctor has become synonymous with the ground for nearly 50 years.
No wonder then that the classicist doesn't want Test matches moved to the sparkling new, 65,000 capacity, state of the art Optus Stadium on the other side of the river bank.
But it only takes one to experience the ruggedness of the WACA Ground by sitting on the grass banks in the bright sun, deprived of any shade and not having modern amenities to realise that the the stadium was past its time. Add to that the capacity of 22,000,which was not sufficient, especially for the Big Bash matches which tend to draw a crowd in excess of 40,000. Apart from a few that sit comfortably in the members' stand, 80 percent would privately admit that the WACA Ground didn't meet the lofty standards a sport loving nation like Australia demands of its venues.
Sitting on the eastern grass banks at the WACA Ground, one cannot help but notice the tinlike colosseum structure that will be the new home of cricket in Perth. It is formally known the Optus Stadium.
The only thing that splits the old and the new home of cricket out in the west is the Swan River. The two stadiums are connected by the iconic Matagarup Bridge. The bridge was designed to connect the city to the Burwood peninsula.
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 13, 2018
It is from this bridge that one realises the enormity of the Optus Stadium. Its black exterior shining brightly in the sun and the stylish brown facade visible from a distant. Outside the ginormous structure is the newly built railway station that has six platforms connecting to two different train lines in the Perth city. "It is the convenience that matters," says one of the volunteers as he points me towards the right entry point.
But it is only after you venture inside that you realise the vast playing surface, the three-tier stands, and the two gigantic screens. There is a sense of freshness as you enter, a bit like the smell of a new furniture. The height of the stands makes one look skywards, such is the vertical rise of each rows of the stadium.
It is a multisport facility, which also hosts Australia Football league matches and the Rugby, so the outfield is a lot lush and slightly soft underfoot. The ball will not speed across the turf like the WACA Ground but the sheer structure of the stadium can intimidate any player. It mirrors the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), but there is a repetition with the beige coloured seats that surround you from all directions. Of course, there are no light towers like the WACA Ground or the MCG or the Adelaide Oval, the lights are inbuilt on top of the vertical arc that sits above the third tier of stadium.
After the MCG, this is largest playing surface in Australia and it is not until one takes an elevator to the third level that you realise the width of the ground. The straight boundaries are shorter, but by no means tiny. The square boundaries, however, are deep and the oval like structure means the mid-wicket and cover boundaries will be close to 90 meters.
The 22-yard strip in the middle is a drop-in pitch. The clay and content of the pitch might resemble that of the WACA, but the truth of the matter is that the depth of the soil content that ensures the pitch stays nice and hard throughout the five days will not be there.
There are also in excess of 50 corporate boxes in the stadium. A special seating on the first level between the coaches boxes is referred to as the 'Best XI' and is touted as the perfect place to watch the cricket from since it is right behind the bowler's arm.
The stadium undoubtedly, has a state of art feel to it but compared to the WACA Ground it certainly lacks the character. But the Optus Stadium, whether it is from the outside or inside definitely grows on you the more time one spends in its proximity.
The parklands which surround the stadium one side along with the beautiful Swan river on the other, add to its character. Inside, the facilities are top notch. All the stadium needs is a big crowd, something it experiences regularly for Australian Football League (AFL) matches. After all it was designed more so for the AFL rather than cricket.
Locals here tell you that the roar for an AFL match resembles that of the MCG. Optus Stadium will never be the WACA Ground, but it still has its charm and a majestic feel to it. All it needs now a wonderful Test match.