England v Australia, 5th npower Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 21, 2009

Pitch causes a dust storm


There's nothing quite like a pitch imbroglio to stir the passions, and even more so when that strip is playing host to an Ashes decider. Truth be told, Australia's dramatic second innings stagger was more attributable to England's disciplined bowling performance than a dodgy deck, but with tensions high and an urn on the line, the parched Oval wicket emerged as a major discussion point after the second day's play.

Michael Holding, Shane Warne, Scyld Berry and Peter Roebuck all waded into the pitch debate on Friday, variously describing the surface as over-baked, disappointing and even unethical. After stumps on the first day, Ian Bell commented that the surface played like a day three strip; a view shared by Stuart Broad who, on Friday, felt the footmarks, dust and general scarring were more akin to a fourth day wicket.

At best, The Oval staff erred in their predictions of a traditional, pacey pitch and at worst they were deceptive. A hot, dry week in London leading up to the Ashes decider no doubt contributed to the bone-dry centre strip, but whether groundstaff harboured an underlying desire to produce a result wicket, as has been alleged in some quarters, is unclear.

To the credit of the Australians, no attempt was made to use the abrasive wicket as an excuse for Friday's meek capitulation at the hands of Broad and Graeme Swann. Simon Katich, comfortably Australia's best batsman with a dogged 50, directed praise towards England's attack, rather than vitriol towards The Oval's groundstaff, when assessing the second day's play.

"I guess there will be a fair bit said about that, but the bottom line is England bowled well today and unfortunately we couldn't stop the momentum," Katich said. "A fair bit of credit deserves to go to Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. The rest of the guys bowled well, but they obviously got the rewards. They deserve a bit of credit rather than talking about the wicket.

"There weren't a lot of balls that disturbed the surface. There were a few, you could see them on the slow-mos, but I think the bottom line is England got the momentum and after the initial partnership we had we just couldn't string another one together and stop that momentum. It only takes one partnership to stop that and unfortunately that was just the way the day panned out. I think the English bowlers deserve some credit. Both teams are playing on the same wicket."

There is little doubt that The Oval wicket deceived both the Australian and English camps prior to the fifth Test. The Australians would dearly love to be throwing the ball Nathan Hauritz's way from Saturday morning, while England would presumably have switched Steve Harmison for Monty Panesar if given another chance.

But to blame the pitch for Australia's woes is to miss the point. The tourists surrendered much of their Headingley advantage with an indisciplined first innings bowling performance at The Oval that yielded 38 extras and 44 boundaries. England, by contrast, never allowed the Australian batsmen a moment of respite on Friday, as reflected in the seven extras and 25 boundaries they conceded.

"What we found as a batting unit was you never felt particularly in on the wicket, it was quite hard to drive on and the ball popped on the odd occasion," said Broad, England's five-wicket hero. "Today it probably played a bit like a fourth day wicket but no ball particularly misbehaved. You can't look at the wicket and blame the wicket

"We found it quite hard to score on, to drive on. It was important to bring the stumps into play because it's not easy to leave on length like a normal Oval wicket. It's a bit more up and down. My plan was to really bring the stumps into play, and look for bowleds, lbws and caught at slips because it's quite a slow wicket."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on August 23, 2009, 15:28 GMT

    Australia does not act like England and drop their captain at the end of a close series, especially where one is deluded to claim that they were completely outplayed by the opposition. Nice to see capetown-pom claiming some to have a colonial chip on their shoulders as a point of argument rather than focusing on any realities. Thank go we can now move on from 2005 - what a relief!

  • Michael on August 22, 2009, 12:40 GMT

    This is a lot of fun ...the Oval pitch is really showing up people's mentalities. The fact is the Aussies are always accusing us of whingeing at the slightest thing and yet these strong and noble Aussie hearts have to take everything on the chin!!!!??? Joke! Read Andy saltzman on this match and look at Ist comment down. The fact is if this pitch was a greentop people would accept it and say iot was the weather. If it swings people don't write articles about the how the clouds were bullying them(yet) So why be squeamish if suddenly batsmen are tested by spin early on. Saturday morning's play showsed how to use technique and application to make runs. As for Kiwi tracks,noone complained about the Hamilton track winter 2008. These things just happen. As for the Oval it tends to suit England anyway,like Galle suits Sri lanka well,Perth/Brisbane suit Australia well.

  • Darren on August 22, 2009, 9:46 GMT

    In the past year we have seen numerous examples of extreme batsmen friendly conditions with teams racking up massive 1st innings and the game drifting into the most tedious of draws. This does nothing for the future of test cricket as entertainment. So I think a result wicket is a far more entertaining spectacle for the public. My worry is not about preparing a results pitch (well done for getting everyone excited about the action) but about the combined cricketing wisdom of both teams, surely at this level they should be able to assess the conditions and realise that its going to suit spinners. Also if the oval authorities were really trying to unfairly assist England then you would have expected this to be reflected in the selection of Panesar.

  • Andrew on August 22, 2009, 9:46 GMT

    Why would any groundsman doctor a pitch to suit a bowler that neither side possesses? Yes, it's dry. Yes, it's taking spin. Yes, it's late August, and not too many years ago it was a given that late-summer English pitches favoured spin over seam, just like those in May do the reverse (no pun intended). Both sets of selectors have fouled up by not playing 2 spinners (surely the skippers looked at the pitch first), and just for the record, Australia will chase down anything up to 375, so England really neede to get their heads down today. I feel sorry for anyone with tickets for Monday though

  • Puneet on August 22, 2009, 9:40 GMT

    I fail to understand the hue-cry in this oval pitch which has till now proved to be a batsmen's paradise this summer, every team uses the home-condition to their advantage. Get a feeling Punter & his men are in trouble, as pom said gonna lose ashes 2nd time as captain. The gamble of 'dust bowl' seems to have paid off for now, though the chances of pitch not being mentioned is remote. Aussies have been BIG TIME LOSERS for sometime now. The bottom line is there is a MATCH ON after what happened in the last session, i am betting my money on the english for now. Chasing even 300 on this turning dustbowl track is not gonna be easy even for the talented oz lineup. Aussies have themselves to blame for the mess. Itz upto them to pull off a miracle from here.

  • Vijay on August 22, 2009, 9:34 GMT

    A big noise is being made as if England have already won the Ashes, that ia clearly not the case. If we look at the stats of the 2nd day, Australia made 160/10 & England made 83/5, so that is fairly even contest. Enland are 230 ahead & they need to go past at least 400, to have some realistic hope of winning, which is still 170 away, otherwise the Aussies will have the upper hand. So, England fans, don't be overjoyed, it is still evenly matched......

  • Usman on August 22, 2009, 9:30 GMT

    Trouble is that impreesion was given that wicket will have pace and bounce, Australia picked their lineup that suits that, otherwise on this dry pitch nathan & lee would likely be playing bringing spin and reverse-swing into equation and then it would have been a different ball game for english batsmen. If everybody knew the sort of pitch it really is before the match & then on that pitch played their best suited team then its an even contest, I believe England benefited more than Australia because of this surprisigly different pitch.

    On a seperate note, I cant't believe Australia are going to loose (very likely) the series becaus of 2 bad days in the middle, neither teams have been outstanding in this series but Aussies played much better overall & didnt deserve to loose

  • Him on August 22, 2009, 8:22 GMT

    A few points: a) Very classy of Katich to give Broad due credit for a fantastic spell. (in fact, I predict if Aus do lose, Ponting will also give credit to Broad in his comments and acknowledge that their batting wasn't up to the mark) b) Can't deny that losing the toss in such conditions is a significant factor. c) Preparing a wicket that gives the home side an edge is not tantamount to cheating - to quote Chappelli: "there's a reason it's called TEST cricket!". Further, such bowler-friendly wickets are really a GAMBLE if the away team has resources to exploit it (Hauritz had matched Swann so far), and of course the toss can go either way. d) Watson's early reprieve probably offsets North's decision (very classy response from North...just smiled). And Stuart Clark's batting aint gonna decide this match! e) Lastly, IT AINT OVER TILL IT'S OVER!!! England should win, but I would never count out an Aussie team in an Ashes battle of nerves! (I suspect neither would English fans!)

  • David on August 22, 2009, 8:10 GMT

    So we finally have a pitch that gives the bowlers some chance. Big deal. Test cricket isn't about teams racking up 550+ and quality bowlers having to wheel away all day on a shirt front. Isn't it a more fair contest if the pitch has enough in it to interest the bowlers without doing anything dangerous, which seems to be the case here. No balls have massively misbehaved but many poor shots have been played. Be careful not to get drawn in by the commentators. We have a whole army of former players with not much to talk about and a lot of time to do it, hence a certain subject gets picked and runs and runs. In this case it's the pitch that is the centre but has it really done anything terrible yet but provide a few puffs of dust?

  • Tommy on August 22, 2009, 8:06 GMT

    I'm not quite sure what the problem with the pitch is. How many of the wickets (so far) were directly and obviously attributable to pitch weirdness? And what would have happened if England had lost the toss? It clearly is a result pitch, but both sides have to bat on it- England (so far) have had best use of it by winning the toss, but there was no guarantee of that. The Oval has been prepared as a result wicket when the home team need a result- that is all and it happens all round the world-whether that result goes England's or Australia's way is down to the players (and a lucky toss).

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