Australian ‘cricket’ grounds

One of the first things I noticed last night whilst watching the Gabba Test was the odd colouring of the seats. It’s something I remember from previous Ashes; they’re designed so as to give the impression of a full house even when there isn’t one. (One can infer then that there wasn’t a full house and that the seats don’t do a particularly good job of disguising that fact.) I think it’s pretty stupid, but it’s part of a much broader dislike of most Australian grounds.

Many Australian grounds are not owned by their clubs, but by the state government, and are used for multiple sports, most notably Australian rules football (AFL). As anyone who has tried to watch baseball in a multi-purpose stadium knows, this all but ruins the ground. The Gabba and the MCG are the worst. They’re just great monotone concrete bowls. There is no variation, no individuality, no character. Neither of them have individual stands anymore, they are just unbroken rings of seating. The pavilions in both grounds are little more than greenhouses set into the massive stands and the players emerge from tunnels.

What is this, football? (Image from Channel Nine)
Worst, they have to use drop in pitches because the AFL players don’t like being tackled on the hard wicket. (Apparently AFL players, like NFL players in the USA, are soft.) [Edited to add: I have been informed in the comments that this is also to protect the wicket from AFL players.] They aren’t cricket grounds anymore; they are AFL stadia in which cricket is sometimes played. The MCG at least has a history of being a dual use ground and at least it can mostly fill the seats during the cricket. (If Australia are playing well.) The Gabba has shown that it can’t and shouldn’t be used for cricket. The SCG isn’t immune either unfortunately; the gorgeous old pavilion is overshadowed by stands on either side.

The rot is spreading too. The Adelaide Oval is being renovated to increase capacity for the AFL and there are plans for the SCG to become more like the MCG. (Though that is at least for partly cricketing reasons, specifically the World Cup.) The WACA is the only ground that is not often used for AFL and it’s also the only ground with a sensible renovation plan.

I should point out that English grounds are not perfect. The Point at Old Trafford is a monstrosity which at the very least ought to have been placed opposite the pavilion instead of literally overshadowing it. And the Edgbaston renovations aren’t brilliant either. They are both an attempt to improve the grounds suitability for cricket though, which is their actual function. They aren’t built for football at the cost of cricket.

7 thoughts on “Australian ‘cricket’ grounds

  1. This article is so wrong I hardly know where to begin.

    1) Football and cricket have shared Australian grounds for over 130 years. Aussie Rules is designed for cricket grounds. They are not multi-purpose (like baseball/football grounds where viewing angles are disrupted) but built for purpose, for both (they have a 6 month sharing arrangement).

    2) The building of stands into a bowl has zero to do with whether football is played there. The MCG still has two stands, actually, but they are roughly the same height/dimensions. Mostly because it would be difficult to make them much bigger. The MCC removed the old members pavilion, Ponsford and Olympic stands because, frankly, they were rubbish. The SCG, WACA and Adelaide Oval have all been football grounds at various times, and all retain their stands.

    3) Australian grounds don’t fill for test matches (or any other match) outside the weekend and public holidays (and even then they empty out as the day goes on). They never have. Australia is not England: smaller population, much harder to travel around, and larger grounds.

    4) The economics are million times better for Australian grounds. They are used 12 months a year, they are big enough to carry huge capacities for key events (Boxing Day) without needing to charge ridiculous prices (a boxing day ticket costs 15 quid). English grounds are hopelessly under-sized for internationals, miles too big for county games, with no extra tenant to cover costs and drowning in debt. The Gabba was an awful ground until it got redeveloped. Now it is boring, but still better. It would never have got redeveloped without football. 3-5 days per year of cricket crowds won’t pay for anything.

    5) The pitch at the MCG isn’t drop-in to protect footballers. It is drop-in to protect the pitch from footballers. Go back two decades and the MCG pitch (and outfield) was a sandy uneven disgrace, unfit for cricket. Only the MCG has drop-in pitches, although footballers would prefer not to run over the harder area, the reality is the grounds are generally fine for football, and the cricket clubs run them.


  2. 1) I am aware that the grounds were historically dual purpose and I alluded to that fact. It doesn’t make them any better though. It’s not just about viewing angles it’s about aesthetics. The design of the stadium itself more noticeable in baseball and cricket than in most other sports. Even if the seats are all perfectly aligned they ought not to be played in giant concrete bowls. Australian cricketers talk about playing at Lord’s, but English ones don’t talk about playing at the (almost as old and famous) MCG.

    2) Doesn’t it? Adelaide is being renovated to add more capacity as it hosts more AFL, and the SCG is already somewhat of a bowl and supposed to get worse. The WACA is the most traditionally designed ground and it hosts the least football. Even with the renovations it will still have some character.

    3) I know Australia is not England, but it would be easier to sell out the grounds if they weren’t set up to hold 45,000?

    4) I don’t think English grounds are undersized for internationals. Except for the Ashes and other very major series there are usually a handful of tickets left over. I’d say they are pretty much perfectly sized for internationals. The Test venues are then too large for county matches, but that is unavoidable. Many of the smaller county grounds are well sized though, e.g. Aigburth in Lancs. There is a financial problem for some of the counties, but they are largely funded by the ECB and those with Test venues usually turn a profit.

    5) Sky had a special about the drop-in pitches last year and said it was to protect the AFL players, but I will bow to your more local knowledge and edit that.


  3. 1) Your implication is that the aesthetics of a staid English ground is better. That is an unbelievably narrow view of how cricket ought to be played; Australian grounds are different, not worse, not better. Your last point is just wrong. Cricketers love Boxing Day and 80,000+ crowds, and you need a stadium for that.

    2-3) The SCG is far from a bowl (meaning all stands the same). The grounds are big because they need to be to fulfill the purpose they are designed for, including hosting major cricket matches, and football. You might get a few more people if people couldn’t attend certain days in a smaller ground, but Cricket Australia needs the money from as many spectators as possible. If the grounds were boutique, they couldn’t justify anything bigger than ~12-15,000 (the WACA was hosting football when it was last developed, now it is developing on a real-estate bubble). That’s about a $30m a year loss.

    4) The ECB is not a bottomless pit, and maintaining multiple boutique county grounds is economic suicide. Lords’ would get 60,000 a day if it was big enough, as would the Oval (which is the ground that ought to be developed). And it would be good for the popularity of cricket in England if tickets were 25 pounds instead of 90. Notwithstanding that large numbers of English supporters like cricket because it is snobbish, not popular. Australian cricket has a lot less snobbery, and their grounds reflect that.

    I’ve been going to the MCG for two and a half decades, and it is a brilliant place to watch cricket (especially when it is empty, because some viewing positions are unmatched). It has its problems: the food is terrible, it can be oppressive in the heat, but you can move around during the day, and other issues could be fixed with a little imagination. The build-up to play in a big stadium with a big crowd is unmatched though, and cricket would be poorer if it was universally English.


    1. Boxing day is one day a year, Lord’s is ten. The appeal of Lord’s is from the ground and the history not just how many people can fit in the ground. Yes there are advantages to having a large crowd, but if they don’t all turn up the appeal is not just lost, it’s negative. Aesthetics, I concede, are subjective. I do not insist that everyone agree with my description of a good ground, but it is an opinion I hold fairly strongly. Ultimately I’d love to attend an Ashes Test at the MCG, but in spite of the venue not because of it.

      There can be a balance between a big ground and some sense of aesthetics. Eden Gardens, for instance. It’s far from ideal but it has character and holds 60,000. Lord’s isn’t a big ground, but it holds almost 30,000 which is enough for most of the crowd on almost all ocasions. (After the first day, how big were the crowds at the MCG last year? Or the SCG? How big is the crowd at the Gabba now?) Smaller grounds mean less upkeep, stewards, etc too.

      I’m not sure what your point about multiple boutique county grounds is. Making them bigger wouldn’t increase attendance for a domestic match and the international matches are already profitable. Cheaper tickets would be nice, but increasing the capacity of the grounds would not necessarily bring the prices down. As long as people are still willing to pay £90 the tickets will still be priced that high. Premiership football tickets are just as if not more expensive than cricket tickets and that doesn’t seem to have hurt its popularity.

      It’s a matter of opinion, I know, but I’d love to go to Lord’s or Newlands (Not all aesthetic grounds are English!) even for a neutral match. The appeal of the Gabba or the MCG is limited to that of the Ashes.


  4. The Boxing Day test normally goes 70-90, 50-60, 30-40, 20-30 on successive days. Only day 4 and 5 don’t exceed the capacity if every English ground. The SCG is smaller, so it tends to go 45,40-45,35-40,20-30. The Gabba I don’t know, but the next best option fits 6000, which is way below how many are there today. If cricket built its own stadiums in Australia the upkeep would be much much higher (no football to subsidise) and the size much smaller. It is a loss-loss.

    If you think the MCG doesn’t have history, or that you can’t feel it as you go around the ground you are delusional. The Olympic boards, the statues, all add to the ground. Even empty it has a certain aura. It will be big against India this year, though less so against South Africa or Pakistan in other years (sadly not all teams get to play there).

    You don’t have to like it, and that’s your choice. But you are putting forward support of a particularly English aesthetic (which Newlands shares). I (and a lot of Australians) like the aesthetic of stadium cricket, and smaller crowds give you access to the best seats which are very good indeed (the worst seat at the MCG is ordinary, but then at least it exists). In any case, none of the history or heritage is relevant to the Gabba, which was a terrible cricket ground and dog-racing track 20 years ago, and is now a bog-ordinary cricket and football stadium.

    Without football, the facilities at Australian grounds would be shocking. Because, unlike England, we don’t have a viable domestic competition putting (even small amounts) of money into grounds. Even an old-fashioned ground you’d like (North Sydney) where NSW play occasionally was built up for football.


    1. I know the MCG has history and atmosphere, I said as much in my first comment. But the stadium itself lacks the idiosyncrasies of other grounds. It’s bland. Swap it for one of the old cookie cutter stadia from the US and you would be hard pressed to tell. The construction of the ground detracts from it’s appeal, rather than adds.

      Perhaps it is a very English aesthetic (I’m certainly a traditionalist). It’s not uniquely English though; in addition to Newlands there are similar grounds in the Windies as well and I would certainly have put the Adelaide Oval in that category. (Though I don’t know how much that will change with the redevelopment.) Perhaps I’ll write my next post about why runs ought to come before wickets on the scoreboard…


      1. Well you know some of those cookie cutter stadiums would have made better cricket grounds than football or baseball. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for instance.

        The MCG hasn’t changed, you’d have to go back to 1950 to get the wind (barring a few years when there were gaps in the ground); the pitch bounces above ankle height after day 3 now, which is no bad thing; and the outfield is still mis-aligned with unusually long boundaries to RH mid-wicket and short straight. That tends to go unnoticed by tv, though the rope fences have removed some of that charm too. The capacity is unique though, and that is worth it.

        Australia have been working on a compromise over the wicket/runs issue. When batting they aim to keep both the same.


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