NEW GROUND

The na­tion’s ven­er­a­ble rota of Test are­nas greets two new­com­ers this sum­mer in Perth and Can­berra. How will they play? Matt Cleary in­ves­ti­gates.

ABC Cricket - - CONTENTS - MATT CLEARY @JOURNOMATCLEARY

Matt Cleary checks out the Test turf in Can­berra and Perth.

The ac­cepted wis­dom around Aus­tralia’s dis­parate cricket wick­ets goes roughly like this: the SCG turns, the WACA has bounce, the Gabba’s a fair strip. Ade­laide is “par­adise” for bat­ting (in the day-time) while Bel­lerive un­der woolly skies of­fers seam­ers plenty. And the dear old MCG – once a mine­field made of Merri Creek soil – has known drop-in wick­ets since 1996, and they’ve been firm and fast and fair.

It’s not al­ways thus, of course. Perth’s been a road, Ade­laide a green-top. Yet, by and large, cricket fans know what’s com­ing. This sum­mer, though, two anom­alies: Perth Sta­dium and Manuka Oval will host In­dia and Sri Lanka in Test match cricket. And how the strips play, wear and tear will be un­der so many mi­cro­scopes.

“You ba­si­cally can’t get out on Manuka,” ac­cord­ing to one for­mer Test opener. “Make it an even con­test – blind­fold the bats­man. The clos­est would be the old Ade­laide Oval be­fore they dug it up, mi­nus the ball turn­ing. Only dan­ger is re­verse swing.”

An­other first-class bat reck­ons Manuka could suit Sri Lanka. “It’s very dry, gen­er­ally, and lacks pace and bounce. I’d say the Sri Lankans would feel more at home at Manuka than any other venue in Aus­tralia. The con­di­tions would be closer to Colombo than Perth.”

Head cu­ra­tor Brad van Dam says the Manuka

Oval wicket has been lauded as a pure sur­face for bat­ting be­cause of the high-pro­file short­form fix­tures it’s hosted. One-day wick­ets are brought up to favour the bat. Test match strips de­mand greater equal­ity. “We’ll try to bring up a fair wicket to show­case all of the play­ers’ skills,” says van Dam. “We want a great pitch for the great play­ers.”

Can­berra in Fe­bru­ary can be bak­ing hot. It’s a dry, “bush” heat. Van Dam will wa­ter the Oberon soil and mow the Leg­end couch de­pend­ing on the con­di­tions. Then he’ll take the cov­ers off and see what hap­pens. He’s con­fi­dent the wicket will stand up.

“Manuka’s been around for 80 years but re­ally only in the lime­light the last five. But now it’s a go-to venue for Cricket Aus­tralia. We’re clas­si­fied as one of the ‘big’ grounds. We won’t get a Test match ev­ery year – the big­ger, es­tab­lished venues have a lot of his­tory. But hope­fully we’re al­ways in the run­ning.”

Van Dam has been ten years in Can­berra after six years un­der Tom Parker at the SCG. He rates Chris Gayle’s World Cup dou­ble-hun­dred and Brett Lee’s fi­nal over of the 2014-15 Big Bash League fi­nal – on a hat-trick, scores tied, run out bun­gled, Scorchers win – as high­lights. But a Test match is some­thing else again. It’s a huge feather in ACT Cricket’s cap.

“The lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s put money into it. We’ve hosted a Shield fi­nal, Big Bash fi­nal, ODIs. It’s been a real case of ‘If we build it they they will come’.”

While Can­berra’s el­e­va­tion to Test venue has been steady, Perth Sta­dium’s birth – in place of the sto­ried WACA ground – was more prob­lem­atic. Leg­endary WA great Den­nis Lillee re­signed as the as­so­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent. Let­ters to the lo­cal news­pa­per rained in. There were fears the new wicket would not repli­cate the WACA ground’s fa­mous bounce.

But the folk at the WACA have done their best. In con­sul­ta­tion with many ex­perts and Cricket Aus­tralia, a pro­to­type wicket was made from the same com­bi­na­tion of soil and grass as that at the WACA ground. State play­ers tested it in match con­di­tions. When it came up trumps, they made four more like it and stored them in a nurs­ery at the north­ern end. Then they dug a big square hole and dropped them all in. The sta­dium has since hosted one Big Bash match and one ODI. Sta­dium chief ex­ec­u­tive Mike McKenna says all the test­ing in­di­cates that the new strips should be fast with good bounce and carry. Just like the WACA.

“It’ll start with a tinge of green grass, be hard and fast, and not too spin-friendly,” he says. “If it’s sunny, like most wick­ets it’ll crack later in the match, though it won’t be as pro­nounced as at the WACA ground. You couldn’t lose a bat in it. Could you lose a key? Pos­si­bly!”

“YOU BA­SI­CALLY CAN’T GET OUT ON MANUKA. MAKE IT AN EVEN CON­TEST – BLIND­FOLD THE BATS­MAN.”

Steve Smith took a close-up look at Perth Sta­dium’s strip – will it play like the WACA?

Manuka Oval: ready for its Test de­but.

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