CricViz analyst Patrick Noone profiles The WACA.
The WACA ground in Perth is set to host its 14th and final Ashes Test match with future encounters scheduled to be held at the brand new Perth Stadium. The loss of the WACA as a frontline Test venue will sadden many; the ground is often seen as being synonymous with Australian aggression and fighting spirit and has carved out a unique place in Test cricket folklore. From Roy Fredericks’ fearless 169 against Lillee, Thomson et al. in 1975, to Shane Warne’s 99 in 2001, not to mention hat-tricks for both Glenn McGrath and Merv Hughes, the WACA has been the setting for some unforgettable moments in Test cricket.
Since 1999, 80% of Test wickets taken in Perth have been to seam bowlers, reaffirming the WACA’s reputation as a haven for the quicker men. No Australian ground has seen a higher proportion of wickets fall to seamers in that time and batsmen average 31.34 against seam, compared to 42.88 against spin.
The hosts have won 24 of the 43 Tests played at the WACA, giving them a 56% win percentage. Their recent record is not quite as strong, with four wins, four defeats and a draw in the nine matches since 2008. Australia have failed to win their last two matches in Perth, drawing to New Zealand on a placid pitch in 2015 before being humbled by South Africa last year in what was the Proteas’ third successive win there.
England have only won one of their 13 matches at the WACA – way back in 1978 – giving them a win/loss ratio of 0.11 that is lower than any other ground at which they’ve recorded a win. The visitors have lost each of their last seven Tests in Perth, a run that stretches back to 1991. Not only have England been beaten in those games, but they have been beaten heavily – they have lost four of those seven matches with an average defeat margin of 238 runs with the other three defeats by margins of nine wickets, seven wickets and an innings and 48 runs.
Teams have slightly favoured batting first at the WACA, with captains choosing to do so in 23 of the 43 matches (53%) played there so far. 16 matches have been won by teams winning the toss, compared to 19 by those losing the toss. New Zealand, in 1985, are the only visiting team to win at the WACA after winning the toss and choosing to bowl.
Famously a ground of fearsome pace and bounce, the WACA has lost some of its zip in recent years but is nonetheless still a venue that offers plenty of encouragement to fast bowlers. In the last ten years, seamers have found an average of 89cm of bounce, ranking it the fifth bounciest pitch in the list of grounds to have hosted at least five matches in that time. Seamers have also found an average of 0.65° of swing, more than any other Australian ground in that time.
The bounce is beneficial to the spinners too, with the average bounce of 77cm also fifth in the list of grounds worldwide. The WACA is not a ground where spinners find much turn though, with the average in the last four years just 2.7°, lower than all grounds besides the MCG and The Wanderers, Johannesburg in that time.
The playing area at the WACA is the smallest of Australia’s Test grounds, with the square boundaries spanning 139m from cover to mid-wicket and the straight boundaries 149m from end to end. Those dimensions mean that batsmen find value for their shots; the percentage of shots that find the boundary at the WACA in the last ten years is 6.83%, only four grounds to have hosted five or more matches have seen a higher percentage in that time.
It has been said that fast bowlers have often been seduced by the extra pace and bounce of the WACA wicket and as a result bowled too short. The optimum length for seamers is actually a typical Test match length of between six and eight metres from the stumps, in the channel outside off stump. The average bounce that seamers have found from balls pitching at that length is 86cm in the last ten years – higher than every ground besides the Gabba – meaning that batsmen have more difficulty playing balls at that length than they otherwise would on a less bouncy pitch.
The heat maps illustrate the same point, particularly to the right-handers, where it is evident that even balls pitching on a good length will comfortably clear the stumps and induce outside edges that are responsible for 39% of wickets at the WACA (global average 35%).
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.