Sheffield Shield November 7, 2012

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.

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
Ricky Ponting on Australian pitches

"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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    Think batsman need to stop whinging! If they could man up and learn to bat on difficult surfaces we might see more decent scores on flat test tracks! Batting on flat wickets against first class bowling won't prep for QUICK bowlers first morning of a test!

  • James on November 8, 2012, 0:57 GMT

    I absolutely agree with RJHB, just a couple of years ago we were all complaining that the sheffield shield pitches were not providing enough results and entertainment for the spectators. Now people are saying they are too lively! The biggest reason we haven't had a batsman make 1000 runs in a shield season for so long would be poorer batting technique and the prevalence of twenty20 cricket which causes a batting mentality completely the opposite of that required for first class cricket. If CA wants to have a strong Aussie test match side, they should ban players who want to qualify for the test team from playing twenty20 - they need to learn to bat for hours, not throw the bat for a quick 30 and get out.

  • Andrew on November 8, 2012, 0:53 GMT

    @bobagorof on (November 08 2012, 00:38 AM GMT) - I think the article said SPIN bowlers are not taking 30 wickets. That makes sense as the pacers do all the damage & the spinners get to clean up some crumbs!

  • Rakesh on November 8, 2012, 0:53 GMT

    agree with Hobart pitch, we seen last season against a match against NZ and India vs SL ODI match. One is real tough one to bat and other involve SL scoring 330+ saw India winning in it less than 40 overs.

  • Mark on November 8, 2012, 0:44 GMT

    the criticism is very unfair if anything the more difficult pitches are good as they show who is a flat track bully and who actually has the ability to make it at the next level witch at the moment seems like very few batsman in the shield.

  • Michael on November 8, 2012, 0:38 GMT

    Why is it that batsmen are failing to score 1000 runs AND bowlers aren't reaching 30 wickets? I would think that if the batsmen are having such trouble, the bowlers would be reaping the rewards. Anyway, it's a difficult balancing act - you want your batsmen to develop good techniques which will allow them to survive on difficult pitches and thrive on good ones, while also encouraging your bowlers but also teaching them to get wickets when things aren't all in their favour. Then there's also the problem with spinners not having a chance to bowl. The schedule is a problem, but unless the 3 different competitions (Shield, One-Day Cup and Big Bash) are condensed, it's not going to improve. There used to be Shield matches played in December/early January, but they've been pushed out - so naturally the season is going to be extended. That situation won't change unless something is cut out - either matches, or rest days between matches.

  • Rohanj on November 8, 2012, 0:13 GMT

    Yeah I don't buy the bad pitch scenario either generally. Mitchell is spot on about Hobart. It wasn't that long ago that everyone was complaining about what a road it was at Bellrive and how hard it was to get more than a first innings result. Especially with the weather there,it would be very tough to get that balance. Lyon only bowled four overs there last week,three or four years ago he might've bowled 60 overs and taken 1 or none for 180! As for other pitches, well, if there is a deterioration in standard, maybe the drop-ins have something to do with that. They're generally flat and dead or spicy, hard to get in between as well it seems. In any case, bit hard to blame pitches for the poor techniques of the likes of Khawaja and especially Hughes. Ridiculous to think they're two of our most favoured batsmen for the test wonder the wreaking Poms laugh at us!

  • Anthony on November 7, 2012, 18:20 GMT

    So the ability of the batsmen in Shield cricket to reach the benchmark 1000 runs has fallen away at the same time as Australia's ability to produce Test batsmen, yet people want to blame the groundsmen? Good grief!

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2012, 13:10 GMT

    The criticism of the AB field pitch is probably a bit unfair, from all reports from the ground the deck played fine and the batsmen played poorly, beside from the fact I don't think AB field is capable of being anything but a road

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