I had mixed feelings about going for the Perth Test, primarily because of the guilt of missing out on so many opportunities to watch a Test at the WACA. But the ODI between Australia and South Africa at the new stadium nudged me to choose Perth over other venues for this tour. I am glad I chose Perth. Watching a good-length ball being collected above the head by the keeper remains one of cricket’s most thrilling sights.
There is always a sense of dissonance between the idea of Australia formed in the growing-up years – exclusively through cricketing images and narratives – to an Australia seen through an adult’s prism as a bloated welfare state which has seen immense immigration over the last two decades. Perth’s dissonance is particularly acute. Its proximity and cultural linkages with Asia sometimes made me wonder if I had left Singapore at all. At the airport, they have a prayer hall, and like a piece of trivia coming to life, I met a girl with an unmistakable Singapore accent who is an Australian citizen and apparently grew up in the Christmas Island. The Airbnb home I had booked was owned by a family from Beijing, and a food court nearby was selling Nasi Padang.
My adult self went into complete hibernation once I reached the WACA though. It was so surreal to stand there in such close proximity of an iconic ground. I felt like Vineet Kumar Singh in Bombay Talkies meeting Amitabh Bachchan in person. Two decades of cricket memories came flooding back in an instant. The MCG is breathtaking because it draws the line clearly – the athlete owns the stage and you are just the spectator. Once it puts you in your place, it lets your absorb greatness from a vantage point, allowing you to stand in awe and create myths. On the contrary WACA is particularly intimate – you spread your arms wide and you could nearly hug the ground. From years of watching it on TV, I knew it was no MCG, but little did I expect it to stand there like a more affluent twin of the P Sara Oval in Colombo. Yet P Sara wins the spectacular manual-scoreboard award hands down.
Talking of dissonance, I am still trying to make sense of the dichotomy between the singularly fierce reputation of the pitch and the intimate ground on which it was nurtured.
I like Test cricket being played in both massive stadiums and intimate grounds. It captures the richness and diversity of the format. Purely from that perspective, I was disappointed to see the WACA give way to Optus. Thankfully WACA’s reputation for pacey and bouncy wickets is well preserved in the new stadium, if not enhanced since WACA has often produced belters too. For instance, the batting average at the WACA (33.37) is nearly two runs higher than at the MCG (31.53) since WACA hosted its first test. A tour of the WACA takes you through the team dressing-rooms and the honor boards there remind you of many matches featuring multiple hundreds.
It is true that WACA lends itself well for the Fremantle Doctor to influence the cricket with its open stands on the square. At the Optus Stadium, the breeze ends up swirling around with the fully covered stands on all sides. But even in the context of the breeze, the myth seems to get ahead of the reality. For instance, Chappelli’s point on Lillee bowling with the wind behind him is true, but even that dynamics must have changed substantially once the Lillee-Marsh Stand was erected post Lillee’s retirement. So the natural elements influencing the play itself has undergone many a change with each little renovation in the WACA over the years.
With the Optus pitch turning out to be as impressive as it was my only regret is the feeling of a stadium stomping on a ground.
I am intrigued by the conflicting ideas of how Kohli is both a cultural continuation of the iconic Indian batsmen – along the lines of Sunny and Sachin – and yet such a striking deviation from all his predecessors. If the crowd reaction to his entry at the Optus Stadium is anything to go by, Australians seem to be conflicted about him too for the boos and cheers split themselves even. It was as if he could channel the collective energy of the stadium onto himself as soon as he took strike.
In terms of the context of the match, the score line, the pressure, the early counterattack, and the manner of the counterattack, it was a very Tendulkarine innings. But that’s where the comparison stops. If Tendulkar’s batting was defined by its balance, Kohli prefers to redefine balance by batting so far down the pitch for negating the lateral movement so as never to be in a good position to play the square cut.
The difference that I find the most fascinating though is that while Sachin is seen as the more grounded genius and Kohli the vain hero, their batting offers quite contrasting evidence. Sachin was always conscious of the aesthetic attraction of his batting, and it showed up often in his extended follow-throughs and holding-the-pose-for-photographers extension of his drives. Kohli is so driven in his pursuit of runs that even when he hits the most fluent of drives, he starts to run as he completes the shot. This stood out particularly in perhaps the most vain moment possible when he played a glorious off drive off Mitchell Starc to move from 96 to 100 – it was a moment for posterity and a shot that will resonate for years to come. But even in such a special moment, he started to run as soon as the ball hit the meat of the bat and raced away to the boundary.