England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford July 31, 2013

Dry pitch puts spin in focus for Australia

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Australians, according to the poet Dorothea Mackellar, love a sunburnt country. Quite how much they will appreciate a burnt-looking Old Trafford pitch over the next five days is another matter.

As the team warmed up in Manchester ahead of the third Investec Test, they cast a curious eye over the 22 yards in the middle, and saw largely what they expected: it was hard and dry with a few little cracks. But not everything they saw was exactly as they had anticipated.

"It's got some interesting patches on it but I think it will be a pretty good wicket," vice-captain Brad Haddin said. "It's just a bit different. It looks like it's been burnt, little bits of it."

The England captain Alastair Cook noted that Old Trafford was notorious for producing pitches that were not "aesthetically pleasing", though historically they have been responsible for some of Ashes cricket's most memorable moments. Michael Clarke is no longer a selector, relieving him of the duty - officially, anyway - of deciding whether it will be a two-spinner pitch for the Australians.

"It looked extremely dry and quite strange, to be honest," Clarke said. "It's got a handful of bare patches, which I'm unsure how they get there. The rest of the wicket has got a pretty good grass covering but it's dead grass. It's pretty hard. I think it's more going to be a pretty good batting wicket for the first couple of days.

"Fast bowlers will get reverse swing and the wicket will end up staying a bit lower as the game goes on and I think spin is going to play a part. I'm very interested to see what England do, if they change a winning formula. It's probably easier for us to make change because we haven't won the first two Test matches but for England it's going to be interesting because they've had success."

The teenage left-arm spinner Ashton Agar played the first two Tests for Australia but the more experienced offspinner Nathan Lyon has a good chance of winning a recall at Old Trafford, having shown some encouraging signs at training. Australia's other spin-bowling option is Clarke himself, although his ongoing back issue has limited his bowling in recent times.

"If required, I'll be able to bowl," Clarke said. "I haven't bowled much of late because of my back. I bowled a little bit in the nets at Hove, two overs [on Tuesday], and I'll bowl some more [on Wednesday] as well."

The Australians have expected dry pitches throughout the Ashes tour and given the way they struggled on dusty surfaces in India earlier this year, the spin of Swann and Monty Panesar always loomed as a threat if the conditions suited. Clarke said with more and more countries producing dry pitches, Australia would need to work on their game-plans against quality spin.

"It's smart by the other countries now, isn't it," Clarke said. "Our strength is our fast bowling so they are trying to take that as much as they can out of the equation. If I was a different country, I would be doing exactly the same. The reality is, since Shane Warne, we haven't brought through a number of great spinners or a number of great batters against spin.

"So opposition teams are probably seeing that as an area they can probably exploit against Australia. And we have to continue to get better. But I think the more you play in conditions that are conducive to spin it improves your batting. You learn how to find a way to have success and the same, you learn how to bowl in those conditions as well. So I'm not surprised."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on August 1, 2013, 8:35 GMT

    England will be batting at close of play, no matter who wins the toss

  • dummy4fb on August 1, 2013, 8:15 GMT

    Markofcoloundra is unfortunately correct. Things have not gone as the Aussie selectors may have hoped and the risk of using an aging fringe player perhaps needs reconsidering. I would adjust the order to Hughes (looking sound against pace), Watson (good for 30 so if his partner gets 20 it's a 50 run partnership), Kawaja (give him an extended run), Smith (better than everyone thinks), Warner (capable of winning a match), Wade (has scored 2 hundreds, could fluke a third)), siddle, Harris, agar, Lyon. pray to win the toss and hope Warner and Clarke go off.

  • redneck on August 1, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    @DustyBin the last 2 fast bowler made pitches for ashes tests were the WACA and headingly in 09 and they both resulted in victories for aus. england are now worse than india for doctoring wickets! even the indians draw the line before scorching grass off the pitch!!! i hope the gabba goes for its traditional pitch in the return ashes no more CEO 5 day wickets please!!!

  • cricket_ahan on August 1, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    Not that I expect England to do so, but there is a serious case for England to play 2 spinners in this test. Monty is bowling well at the moment, performed well in the recent tour game, has a great record at this ground, and most of Australia's batting line-up are horrible at playing the turning ball. The pitch will wear from the first day so spin will play a key role. Being 2-0 up, I think England can afford to be a little adventurous. And if it comes off, it will be yet another headache for the Australian camp.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on August 1, 2013, 6:08 GMT

    Ever since the retirement of Warne, Australian spin bowling has been famous for one thing - not spinning the ball. There hasn't been a Aussie bowler since then able to match Swann for turn. Able to match Swann for anything for that matter. The response from the Aus camp was always "turning the ball is not the biggest priority." No wonder they are and things are as bad as they are in Australian cricket, yes England are much better but do they really have to make it worse for themselves? Sub-standards indeed.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on August 1, 2013, 5:59 GMT

    Ever since the retirement of Warne, Australian spin bowling has been famous for one thing - not spinning the ball. There hasn't been a Aussie bowler since then able to match Swann for turn. Able to match Swann for anything for that matter. The response from the Aus camp was always "turning the ball is not the biggest priority." No wonder they are and things are as bad as they are in Australian cricket, yes England are much better but do they really have to make it worse for themselves? Sub-standards indeed.

  • heathrf1974 on August 1, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    If it's a real turner and breaks up heaps the Aussies are in will chance. Usually when wickets favour the bowling sides greatly the teams come closer together. However, if the wicket takes spin but holds together it should end just like Lords or worse for the Aussies.

  • left_arm_unorthodox on August 1, 2013, 3:38 GMT

    And where in all this is Steve O'Keefe? Averages don't tell the whole story, but...31 with the bat, 26.5 with the ball, has dug NSW out of holes so ca play under pressure... got to wonder who he cheesed off at some point.

  • humdrum on August 1, 2013, 2:02 GMT

    At the risk of having egg on my face, i think that the best chance for aussies lies on an under-prepared wicket, which cracks up pretty fast. The aussies simply dont have the grinding,long haul type batsmen so on spiteful turners, going for broke would be the only option.even if they lose, it would not be an embarrassment, like the second test. and by the way, why not look for inspiration to Allan Border, a gritty, dour captain,if ever there was one.In a lighter vein, well mannered aussies are, simply, not AUSSIE. Ask Steve Waugh.

  • markofcaloundra on July 31, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    Well, still don't know our Aus XI.Hoping for improved batting,Must win toss, 400 plus and its game on/series still alive.Real worry is we don't know who our best XI is bar Clarke. Unprecedented. Structural problem is we have 5 openers in squad, no proven 3 or4,Reality is Smith and Khawaja should be batting 5 and 6 for their learning phase of test cricket.So Clarke should bat 4, but won't.Sadly Rogers will play, was always fringe player that's why never picked before, still is. I would go Hughes, Warner to open Watson at three. Cowan is gone, like Rogers a fringe journeyman( a la Inverarity. Sooner he's out of selection the better along with P Howard as HP mgr)). We have to pick and develop for future, so looking ahead to Ashes II at home our best line up now batting wise is:Warner, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Khawaja,Smith, Haddin,Starc, Siddle,Harris, Lyon.If Haddin continues his slow decline Paine is best keeper, not Wade.Bird for Harris, if he cant' back up.Go Boof's boys.