Brisbane curator defends Shield pitches
The Gabba curator Kevin Mitchell Jr has defended the pitches used in Sheffield Shield matches around Australia after criticism that too many of them have become green seamers in recent years. Michael Hussey this week spoke of his concerns that difficult domestic pitches were not adequately preparing players for Test cricket, and the coaches of South Australia and Victoria, Darren Berry and Greg Shipperd, have voiced similar sentiments.
No batsman has scored 1000 runs in a Shield season - once the benchmark for leading batsmen - since 2008-09, and the last spinner to take 30 wickets in a Shield summer was Bryce McGain in 2007-08. Bellerive Oval in Hobart has been one of the venues that has received criticism, especially after last week's match between Tasmania and South Australia was over in two and a half days, but Mitchell believes surfaces are not as bad as they seem.
"I think there's a lot of assumptions about that from people who aren't actually at the game," Mitchell said in Brisbane. "I think they probably should read some of the match referees' reports and captains' reports and then make their mind up after that. I think a lot of it's a bit unfair. Hobart is a hard gig. If you don't give something there for the first two innings, you struggle to get a result down there. It can be a flat wicket otherwise. It's a hard balancing act down there for sure."
The pitch problem came to a head last week, when Australia's Test players were in various cities around Australia preparing for the series against South Africa. Notably, the Hobart match offered so much for the fast bowlers that the Test offspinner Nathan Lyon bowled only four overs in the game, which the national coach Mickey Arthur said was disappointing and "is being addressed at a higher level".
At the Allan Border Field in Brisbane, Queensland and New South Wales players were given a challenging surface, while the MCG pitch for the match between Victoria and Western Australia also offered plenty for the fast men. Ricky Ponting, the leading Shield run scorer this summer, said the matches were less than ideal preparation for a Test series, but he empathised with curators.
"We have to remember though that we started a month earlier than the season normally starts in Australia," Ponting said. "You can probably understand that some of the wickets might be slightly underdone and underprepared. The wicket that we played on in Hobart last week that I can speak about, the whole surface of it had been relaid, the whole wicket block, and it was the first longer form game that had been played on the resurfaced wicket block.
"That one was hard work for the top order down there. We had to chase 220 in the last innings of the game, which was only halfway through day three, and we couldn't get them. It was hard work for the batters. The same thing happened at Allan Border Field. That game only just went into the third day as well. If you're asking me as a batsman only, it probably wasn't perfect preparation going into a Test match here, but thankfully for me I'd had three other Shield games to spend plenty of time in the middle and feel good about my game before that.
"Someone like Pup [Michael Clarke], who's been dying to get some time in the middle and gets a wicket like he got last week is not ideal. There is a balance there somewhere. I think probably on a whole [in] the last couple of years the balance has probably been slightly in the bowlers' favour. But getting wickets absolutely perfect every time is not easy either."
The early-season start was an issue this year, with Shield cricket beginning in September for the first time to allow for an expanding cricket calendar. However, Berry, who is in his second summer as South Australia's coach, believes that "result" pitches have been an issue for a number of seasons, with all 16 matches at Bellerive, the WACA and the Gabba last season providing outright wins.
"States are looking to get results," Berry said earlier this week. "It is no coincidence that Queensland and Tasmania played in the Shield final [last season] and look how many games on their pitches finished in an outright - all of them."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here