SCG stripped of next Shield match
As the Cricket New South Wales chief executive Andrew Jones put it, the state team and the SCG Trust have "been here for more than 100 years and we'll both be here for another 100 years". If that's the case, this was not their finest hour.
The farcical abandonment of the Sheffield Shield match between NSW and Victoria has cost the home side six points and done rather more damage to the reputation of the SCG, its custodians at the Trust and its NSW Blues tenants.
Coming the week after New Zealand's tour match in Blacktown was also abandoned due to a poor surface, albeit pitch rather than outfield, the events at the SCG should have serious ramifications. The Trust itself remains stubborn in the belief that the ground was playable, and on Monday issued a terse statement to that effect.
"The Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust notes the decision to relocate this weekend's Sheffield Shield match from the SCG," a spokesman said. "The SCG remains ready to host cricket at the highest level. The Trust will work closely with Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia to ensure that the next Sheffield Shield match, set down to start on 27 November, takes place as normal at the SCG."
However, the loss of a Shield match to Bankstown Oval will hurt, and as the Cricket Australia operations manager Sean Cary pointed out, the number of times Victorian fielders slipped over in the cover, backward point and gully regions was not acceptable to the umpires or the match referee Steve Bernard, who announced the final decision to call off the fixture.
"When you've got quite significant bare areas where the grass hasn't taken in the high traffic fielding areas 15-20 metres from the stumps, they're the areas that were of greatest concern," Cary said. "We had up to 11 incidences where players slipped over and when that happens the umpires need to look very closely at what will happen into the future, and they have the greatest concern for player safety, and that's why they took the tough decision."
Despite the Trust's statement, Jones revealed that the offending areas were expected to be re-turfed as soon as possible, opening up the possibility of the ground being in a more fit state in time for the Shield match set to be played in the last week of November.
"I think the SCG [Trust] is planning to re-turf it, which can improve it reasonably quickly, but the proof will be in the pudding," Jones said. "The informal advice is they're planning to do that as soon as possible.
"We are hirers of the ground and we hire it on the understanding it will be in first-class condition when the first-class matches are schedule. We scheduled it mindful of the ground keeping schedule, so this came as a bit of a surprise.
"It's not a good look for cricket and it's not a good look for anyone involved, so we've got to take it on the chin. Bearing in mind we're hirers of the ground as we are at Blacktown, so to some extent we have influence but not control. But we like to be excellent at Cricket NSW and this clearly isn't excellent."
One of the reasons the events of Sunday have stuck in the craw of many is the divergence of views from numerous cricketers and officials who all looked at and walked upon the same patches of turf. The curator Tom Parker, who had been off sick for several weeks before the game, was adamant that the in-field was fine to play on, and in better condition when the game was called off than it had been at the start of play.
The Bushrangers who had fielded on it were united in the view that the surface was poor and not up to standard. The NSW players were less troubled by it though they had not yet experienced its vagaries, and it is believed that the Blues captain Moises Henriques offered to declare on the score of 1 for 88 to put NSW in the field and also open the possibility of a result.
But the inconvenient truth for all concerned is that the issues raised by this abandonment are not particularly new - they have only been brought to the surface by the extra rain that fell on Sydney before and during the fixture. Each November the SCG turf is a motley sight, with patchy grass growth in the middle and sandy top dressing in the outfield.
Tour matches played by South Africa in 2012 and England the following year showed a ground a long way short of its best at the outset of the cricket season, and it has become customary for those working at the venue to talk about the goal of "getting it right for the Test" even though the cricket season is half over by the time it comes around - Cricket NSW and the Trust have squabbled in recent summers over the use of pitches well removed from the centre of the square for BBL matches, and practice facilities have also been a source of debate.
After Melbourne and Adelaide submitted to drop-in pitches, Sydney and Brisbane are the only two grounds in Australia subject to large amounts of winter football use while retaining their original wicket blocks. The SCG Trust has long remained determined to ensure that a drop-in is never part of their plans, an admirable ideal in times of increasing financial pressure to do otherwise.
But the bottom line of this week is that the cricket ground needs to find a way to bounce back more quickly from winter to summer. To do that, the rich coffers of government or CA may need some raiding.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig