Sydney pitch likely to resemble last year's
Sydney's 100th Test pitch should offer plenty to the fast bowlers on the first day, as the curator Tom Parker said he wanted to emulate the surfaces prepared for the previous two New Year's matches, against England and Pakistan.
Each surface was full of life on the first day before settling down and turning later, and Parker said those characteristics epitomised what he has wanted to do with the SCG surface since taking over from Peter Leroy in 1997. Twelve months ago Australia battled to 4 for 134 on a rain-interrupted first day on the way to an innings defeat, while in the first week of 2010 the hosts were bundled out for 127 before recovering to record a dramatic victory over a dysfunctional Pakistan side.
"I was happy with that [pitch for the game against England] and I was happy with the previous year's as well [against Pakistan]," Parker told ESPNcricinfo. "The last two years we've really got it together and it has really come up well. I'm hoping to have a pitch somewhat similar to that.
"That's the ideal scenario and that's what we're aiming for. I don't see why that won't happen. The weather's been kind to me and the forecast is for hot sunny days in the lead-up to the Test and the first couple of days of the Test, so I don't see why it shouldn't be perfect for us."
Parker's expectations will add intrigue to the questions of selection, as Australia mull over the possible inclusion of fast bowler Ryan Harris. Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, has not ruled out the use of four fast bowlers after the quicks did the lion's share of the damage in Melbourne.
As it did last year, Sydney has spent much of spring and summer cloaked in heavy cloud and frequent rain, only occasionally enjoying the sort of sunshine Parker would prefer. But in the lead-up to the New Year's Test the forecast has improved, allowing groundstaff to get some sun onto the wicket and outfield.
"There's been a lot of rain around but we have the covers on as well; we've had a lot of matches up to date and it hasn't affected our preparation too much on the centre," Parker said. "The thing that's been a bit of a downfall for us is the overcast conditions more than the rain.
"The hours of direct sunlight have been fairly minimal on several days, and that's been a bit of a pain as far as grass growth goes. In saying that, the outfield's in tip-top condition, as is the centre square."
The arrival of the centenary Test has coincided with the return of Sydney's more traditional type of pitch, offering help to batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners in equal measure. The often lively surfaces of the 1950s and 60s gave way to slow turners in the 1980s and parts of the 90s, before Parker took on the long-term project of returning the track to its classical attributes.
"That's what I've always aimed for. It has always been my goal to produce pitches with an even coverage of grass and pitches that were going to play consistently over the period of the match. We've got that mix pretty well right now.
"As long as you're going into the match with great preparation and good grass coverage, nice even moisture throughout the pitch, it usually pays off and the pitch will play consistently. I like to pride myself on the pitches playing consistently without the balls being one up and one down. Over the course of the five days the pitch changes and the pitch should change, but as long as it is consistent I'm pretty happy with that."
As for the centenary, Parker is delighted to be preparing pitch No. 100 at the grand old ground. "It is a tremendous honour. Not a day goes by that I don't feel privileged to work here. When you look at the history of the SCG, it is fantastic, and to be a major part of that is a great honour. I'm really looking forward to preparing the 100th Test pitch at the SCG I can assure you."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo