By Mark Chipperfield
Since the new-look Adelaide Oval, with its eye-catching scalloped roofs, smart new forecourt and state-of-the-art dressing rooms, reopened in early 2014 the iconic ground has hosted the Rolling Stones, the Cricket World Cup and its first ever AFL finals game.
Yet while the newer, smarter looking Oval grabs the attention with its modern design, broader events schedule and improved spectator experience, it still feels like one of then nation’s more magical sporting arenas.
For the first time visitor, spying the stadium while walking down from the city centre or approaching it after a quick libation in a North Adelaide bar, the childhood summer memories flood back into the mind.
For cricket tragics, it’s the summer memories of a batman’s paradise and everyone scoring runs on a wicket beautifully prepared by the doyen of Australian groundsmen Les Burdett.
Memories of stilted black and white film of the English nastily thrashing Australia in the third test of the 1932-33 Bodyline series. Or it could be England’s collapse (from a strong position) late on the fourth and early in the fifth day of the second test in 2006. Shane Warne picked up wickets and Australia went two-nil up in a series which ended up as a whitewash.
Importantly, once inside this spectacular reinvention of Adelaide Oval it’s those old stories that still resonate. The old scoreboard is still there as are the Victor Richardson Gates, which you can remember commentators reminiscing about batsmen hitting huge sixes over. Then there’s the much-loved Moreton Bay Figs trees which remain after the ground’s $610 million reconstruction.
Actually, probably the best way to get a feel for the old and the new is to tag along on a behind-the-scenes tour.
Behind The Scenes
Now many famous sporting arenas offer behind-the-scenes tours but the one at the Adelaide Oval is truly exceptional.
Billed as a 90-minute experience, the tour includes visits to the players’ changing rooms, a walk on the playing surface, a circular tour of the arena and detailed inspections of both the old scoreboard and the much-loved Moreton Bay Fig trees – both preserved as part of the new development of the Oval in 2012.
For cricket fans climbing up the narrow stairs into the old scoreboard is akin to a religious experience.
Some of the most famous names in the history of the sport such as Bradman, Jardine, Lara, Botham and Tendulkar have been displayed here – each name being laboriously painted by hand by a team on the upper deck and then passed by hand down to a second team responsible for updating the score sheet.
The original mechanism, which uses a series of hand operated pulleys and chains, is still in use.
“When the scoreboard was first opened in 1911 a local commentator said that the scoreboard was so advanced it would never be surpassed,” said Peter, one of the 20 tour guides employed at the Oval.
According to folklore the scorers would often “borrow” chains from bicycles parked nearby when the mechanism suffered a catastrophic breakdown.
Being from a more genteel era, they apparently left a hand written apology on each machine – little compensation for spectators facing a long walk home after a full day at the cricket.
Other highlights of the tour include the famous Moreton Bay Fig trees, once a popular viewing platform for the children of Adelaide, the grassy Northern Mound and the Village Green, which now plays host to corporate marquees during Test matches and other major sporting events.
To walk around this ground is to follow in the footsteps of champions. This tour brings them back to life.
The Bradman Collection
Sir Donald Bradman, widely regarded as the greatest batsman of all time, donated a treasure trove of cricketing memorabilia to the State Library of Australia.
This collection is now on loan to the Adelaide Oval and is housed under the Riverbank stand of the Oval (access through the South Gate on War Memorial Drive).
The collection contains an astonishing number of photographs, sound recordings, newspaper cuttings, artworks, ceramics and pieces of silverware.
A highlight is the 1930 newspaper poster from The Star in London, which simply read ‘He’s Out’. Such was the Don’s fame that the sub-editors felt no need to use his name.
Covering the years from 1927 to 1977, the collection attracts cricket lovers from around the world. More than just a sporting shrine, the collection also reflects the pre-war era when Bradman rose to superstar status.
As a young boy Bradman famously taught himself to bat by hitting a golf ball against a water tank with a cricket stump – a reconstruction allows visitors to test their skills against those of the great man.
Cabinets brim with photographs, letters, citations, clothing and trophies.
The sheer volume of material reflects his prodigious energy and considerable sporting success.
The collection also contains a duplicate copies of 52 leather bound journals penned by Bradman, dating from 1925 to 1948.
Take your time, there’s much to enjoy. Entry to the collection is free.
Known to the rest of the world as an idyllic Test arena, Adelaide Oval has always played a much wider role in its home state, hosting everything from royal pageants to motorcycle spectaculars.
In recent months, a near record crowd of 53,000 soccer fans packed into the reconstructed stadium for an exhibition match between Liverpool and Adelaide United. The entire crowd stood for a moving rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, Liverpool’s official anthem.
Adelaide’s very first Anzac Day memorial service was held here in 1915, long before the cessation of hostilities in World War I.
So while the the ground, which first opened in 1871, is most closely associated with cricket and Australian Rules Football, it has hosted just about every type of sporting contest imaginable, including American football, cycling, rugby league, rugby union, soccer, baseball, athletics, and lawn tennis.
The two-year reconstruction of the Adelaide Oval, which included the installation of a new pedestrian bridge across the River Torrens differs in just about every aspect from its predecessor.
Not only is the stadiums bigger and more comfortable, the playing surface itself has been brought right into the 21st century with hybrid grass plantings, better drainage and automatic watering systems.
Even the idiosyncratic D-shaped layout has been changed to a more conventional oval design, bringing spectators closer to the action.
Spectator comfort was a guiding principle behind the design of the new Adelaide Oval.
Increasing seating capacity had to be matched by superior facilities, easier pedestrian access and better sightlines.
Public access has been greatly improved with the use of multiple escalators, high-speed lifts and generous walkways.
Both the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide have their own permanent facilities in the new Oval, complete with warm up areas, ice baths, massage rooms and a theatre for team briefings.
Each club has a private hospitality area where they can entertain corporate sponsors and other guests.
Corporate guests also enjoy much improved facilities and better views from their private rooms.
The same is true for the sports media, who now broadcast from a specially designed media hub high up in the Western Stand.
The Bradman Collection is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm. The entrance is near the Concierge Desk at the South Gate. Guided tours of the Adelaide Oval operate from Monday to Friday at 10am, 11am and 2pm and Saturday at 10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm (no tours held on event days and public holidays). Tours last around 90 minutes and cost $22 for adults and $12 for children; concessions also available. Book online at the Adelaide Oval.