Redevelopment of The Adelaide Oval: Progression, or a sad loss of the ground’s natural beauty?

Away from the redevelopment, The Adelaide Oval is still very picturesque. Photo by Ian Reid.

By Ian Reid

Venues that have hosted Australian cricket have undergone many changes in a relatively short space of time. These changes have been done so with the intention of progression; a necessity to modernise the facilities and conveniently hold greater capacities. One ground in particular has seen its fair share of change in its time, but the recent facelift is one that has taken away many of its unique identities and may strip away its title from being a picturesque cricket ground to just another characterless sports stadium in Australia. 

Is the redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval a vital step towards necessary progression, or a commercial drive that has resulted in a sad loss of the grounds natural beauty and appeal as a traditional looking cricket ground with serious economic consequences? 

I took my first footstep on the dark green grass of the Adelaide Oval’s hill in March this year during a Sheffield Shield game between South Australia and Western Australia. It was a great moment and one I will remember forever, having waited 19 years to get to the ground. My introduction to cricket was the 1992 World Cup played in Australia. As a result the grounds throughout the country hold a special place in my memory, the scene where I fell in love with the game. The Adelaide Oval was always one of the venues I had a soft spot for. 

Having grown up watching cricket at Newland’s Cricket Ground in Cape Town, South Africa, one can surely understand my connection to traditional, scenic cricket grounds around the globe. This result in a feeling that some grounds should be kept in a condition owing to the strong characteristics they give off. The Adelaide Oval is one ground that’s slightly numbing to see undergo a serious revamp, which will see a vast number of notable beauties become a thing of the past. 

Renowned sports writer, Gideon Haigh, recently spoke at the Adelaide Writer’s Weekly and mentioned that he feels the Adelaide Oval will lose its charm. Simply put by Haigh, in what I detect to be an almost defeatist tone, “it’s going to be a football ground“. Haigh tapped into a good point that one may in time feel (when watching cricket at the Adelaide Oval) as if they are simply at any ground around the world. You will likely lose that feel you are in Adelaide; you are at the Adelaide Oval. 

The Adelaide Oval stood out amongst the other places where cricket is played in Australia. The Bellerive Oval — or Blundstone Arena — still has some charm, but the Adelaide Oval definitely had a special style to it, a unique style one would have to look very hard at now so see. Regrettably, I will never experience what many fortunate viewers were able to soak up. 

As my sense of euphoria subsided during my first day at the Adelaide Oval, I quietly watched the South-East stands undergo development. I slowly understood the reasons behind the development with an aerial view image of the original ground open on my mobile phone. The 2015 Cricket World Cup is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Adelaide needed to boost the stadium’s capacity to meet potential demand for this event and both AFL teams; The Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide, who will find a dual home in the city. 

With an estimated increase to a 53,000 capacity stadium, will it be sustainable in the long run? There is already talk of budget issues, that projected revenue and attendance numbers will not be met, and negative outcries over the visioned new look have been a big topic for debate amongst local Adelaideans. I’d imagine a fair deal of frustration as well amongst the tax payers who don’t have sport top of their agenda — the State Government invested $450 AU million dollars into the project. 

Good sport teams with strong performances have leverage to build big fan bases and attract supporters to the home grounds. However, AFL has been hit by drug scandals, Australian Cricket is in a dark period of rejuvenation, and the South Australian Redbacks continue to remain merely steady in their relevant State formats. The Big Bash has helped build the team profile somewhat. These teams have a role to play to ensure demand is built so the stadiums estimated supply can be met. Better performances are bound to help capacity demands. 

The supporters and SACA members whose views I’ve heard or come across in the media seem to have acknowledged the need for progression, but there was a strong distaste for the need to give the ground such a bland, homogenous look. This reflects Gideon Haigh’s outlook. The new ground will lack character and if it weren’t for the saving of the historic scoreboard, The Northern Mound and the Morton bay Fig Trees, it would be a disaster for the passionate Adelaide Oval Cricket spectators. These landmarks are protected under the Heritage act, which ensures some preservation of history and tradition. 

In order for the current redevelopment to commence, a 75% majority vote was required in order for the go-ahead. This vote was handled in April/ May 2011. 

It was found that 60% of the SACA members, who voted via online means in April, were in favour of redevelopment. This meant the required majority vote had not been met, but the remaining votes, cast at The Adelaide Showgrounds in May, saw this rise dramatically to 80.37%. 

According to a report from ABC News in 2011, 12,539 of SACA’s 19,203 eligible members voted. These numbers also showed that a heavy debate that went on longer than 18 months whether or not to do the redevelopment, turned out to be a positive result to favour the change. This is something I find surprising two years on. 

Seeing these results, and that there is obviously no going back as redevelopment is well underway, I am left with the impression it is simply a case of nostalgia and sentimentality that has upset many SACA members and Adelaide Oval attendees with the change. Also, looking at the methods of casting a vote online in the privacy of one’s home could keep these feelings alive and be hard to abandon, whereas a vote in a public facility creates a buzz and gets people talking; perhaps about the necessity of progression, which pushed the votes beyond the required majority. 

This redevelopment is indeed a necessity to accommodate the future of Australian Sport in the city and this investment alone is vital to ensure the Adelaide Oval can be a pinnacle for hosting multiple sporting and non-sporting events in Australia.

Adelaide has never been viewed as a leading sports city in Australia. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are leaps and bounds ahead, but this change is a chance for Adelaide to become a more attractive venue for greater scale events in terms of what it can support in an economic sense. Therefore, as a newcomer to the city, I see this as a chance not only for progression of the Adelaide Oval, but Adelaide as a city. The unfortunate side is that it’s at the expense of visual familiarity. 

In conclusion, I am sad to see the ground lose its traditional look that I became so familiar with through watching Cricket on the television, as well as hearing the disappointment in the voices of a number of loyal attendees of the Adelaide Oval with regards to the irreversible change. 

Far too often our older generation in particular is afraid of change and the concern of losing value; sentimental value, at the expense of commercial or economic forces. It merely adds to the burden of change. It can often be a fear that stagnates progression and leaves a city behind as a country moves forward. 

However, I am part of the younger generation. It’s important to look beyond nostalgia and focus on the importance of the future progression for this festival city to compete with Australia’s top cities, especially in the sporting arena. This encourages me to see the vision for a new Adelaide Oval as a necessity. Fortunately not all is lost and a few of the traditional Adelaide Oval landmarks will still be in place, so memories can live on through the historical presence as the new chapter for the venue is written. 

The bigger catch at present will be how the corporate side of the development keeps within budget and ensures the deadlines be met, as promised. That is beyond our desires for change or resistance thereof.

(Ian Reid runs In doing so he aims to encourage other supporters around the world to support the team and open their minds to the challenges Australian cricket faces. He comes from the Steve Waugh era of cricket, so he tends to be very optimistic and enjoys the in-depth aspects of this great game. Ricky Ponting inspires him and states that it has been an honour to have followed his career since 1994-95. Ian is a supporter of the South Australian Redbacks and The Wallabies)