Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth December 14, 2010

WACA groundsman hopes to revive past aura


Few venues in world cricket are as evocative as the WACA. From the days of Dennis Lillee thudding the ball into Rod Marsh's upturned gloves, to the sight of Curtly Ambrose claiming seven wickets for one run in a legendary spell in 1992-93, it is a ground that has promised riches for all bowlers who relish pace and bounce in their deliveries.

Around the turn of the 2000s, however, the WACA lost its bite, as the tired old pitches gave up the ghost after years of being baked in the Western Australian heat, and the ground's reputation took a hit as a consequence. But according to the curator, Cameron Sutherland, a return to the surfaces of old is on the cards for the coming Test, as part of an overall project to revive the venue's aura.

"We've totally redeveloped the wicket block," said Sutherland. "We dug it up and started again three years ago, and have been doing it stage by stage. This is only the second first-class game on the Test wicket - we played the West Indies Test on it last year and were pretty happy. Every year as it settles and compacts, it gets harder and gets better, and we think we are on the right track."

With two days to go until the Test gets underway, the pitch is a remarkable sight, with live grass giving the surface a lush green tinge that Sutherland says is a deliberate bid to improve the battle between bat and ball, even if - to judge by the effect in recent Sheffield Shield fixtures - the actual impact of the covering is likely to be less dramatic than its appearance would suggest.

"Most of the Shield wickets have been new-ball wickets," said Sutherland. "In the first 10 overs the quicks get a bit of movement, with a bit of swing around. We are aiming for similar, and are quite happy to have a bit of grass and colour in it for the Test. It took WA a season to get over looking at the colour, because it probably doesn't influence the way it plays. There will a bit of nibble, but it won't go excessively either way."

In the five years since Sutherland has been the WACA's head curator, there has been just the one drawn Test match, and that was his first match in charge, when Jacques Rudolph batted South Africa to an improbably comfortable stalemate after being set an unlikely 491 in the fourth innings. But despite some definite signs of life in State cricket, Sutherland admits that he hasn't quite got the formula right for his five-day surfaces.

"This is the last piece in the puzzle," he said. "The comment comes every year that the Shield wickets have been pretty lively and quick but what's happened to the Test wickets? It hasn't been for the want of trying. Hopefully this year will be similar to what we prepare for the domestic season. We're in a better place with the ground and the wicket development is going nicely. Hopefully in the next three or four years we will keep improving it."

Either way, Sutherland does not expect a repeat of the scenario that he faced during a second XI fixture between Western Australia and New South Wales in November, when a dramatic temperature change caused cracks of up to 4cm to appear on a good length. The match came close to being abandoned but in the end NSW were persuaded to play on so long as there were "no silly buggers" from the pitch - and so it proved as they mustered 244 in the fourth innings to lose by 234 runs.

"That grass we had only put in six months ago and our root establishment was not as good as it could have been," explained Sutherland. "Since then we have had two four-day games with temperatures of 38C all the way through, so the Test wicket has sat there and baked. We estimate we will get some cracking, but that's a characteristic we want - the soil we use sets hard but also cracks, and that's part of the WACA.

"Given the WACA's history we're hoping for a result, but it's up to the players to make the most of it," he added. "I've listened to people on the radio from the Gabba and Adelaide saying 'gee, I wish some wickets would deteriorate'. Our characteristic is cracking. How much it opens up will depend on the weather. You might bowl first, get the freshness out of the wicket early, and then the cracks might even the contest up later."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hollis on December 16, 2010, 0:20 GMT

    A wounded Australian team can be dangerouus as it comes. Look out for a strong backlash on this fast pitch from their fast bowlers. With Broad out , Australia has the cutting edge in the bowling department but the English batsmen are very confident, in great form and their captain is leading from the front. Ponting is no doubt feeling the heat but a batsman of his class can rise to the ocassion if Anderson is for once out of line.

  • Karl on December 15, 2010, 22:47 GMT

    I have heard this ongoing story for many years... that the WACA will be back to its old bouncy self. Yet to see it... maybe its paper talk, curators seem to be nervous about serving up any thing that will not play as a road... Shield matches get a result after 4 days Test pitches are just dead in comparison. Never seen such a dead pitch at the Gabba as we had this year.

  • Anand on December 15, 2010, 22:31 GMT

    something_witty gotta agree with 5wombats - Finn does look pretty decent for a weak link! Hope Tremlett is as 'bad' as Finn was in the flat track that was Adelaide and only more trouble for Oz in WACA! Hope it's a greentop - will sure be fun to watch and test is sure to be over before the next week starts as an incentive.

  • John on December 15, 2010, 13:14 GMT

    Well done. You've managed to totally and completely (and probably deliberately) misinterpret my previous post. Good job.

  • Martin on December 15, 2010, 13:03 GMT

    @Something_Witty; The parts of the Ashes I have seen look a bit like this; In the 2nd Innings at Adelaide Finn took the wicket of Watson and crucially; Hussey (to an appalling shot...). With Hussey gone that was game over for Aus. He's got Hussey out twice now. He's also got Katich, Clarke and North - all frontline "batsmen". Not bad for a weak link. I bet bet Australia would like to pick a bowler who bowls as very poorly as Finn. Oh! They already have! Which bits have you been looking at then?

  • John on December 15, 2010, 11:17 GMT

    5wombats, I don't know if you have been watching the series so far, but Finn has been the weak link in the English attack. He has leaked runs nearly every spell so far, either by overpitching or bowling way too short. The fact that Anderson has taken wickets with the swinging new ball, and the absurd implosion of the Australian batting lineup have masked the fact that, so far in this series, Finn has bowled very poorly. Another reason he has been spared scrutiny is that everyone has been concentrating on the poor performance of the Australian bowlers. And while I do agree they weren't quite up to scratch in Brisbane (Johnson in particular needs an extended break), their performance in Adelaide was not that bad, it's just that Adelaide was the usual dead road that it is every year. If Australia had batted well first up and applied themselves properly, it would have been 600 plays 600, match drawn.

  • Adrian on December 15, 2010, 10:42 GMT

    If it offers spin, Swann is better than any spinners Australia has. If it is all pace, Mitchell Johnson is the fastest bowler on either side but England have Finn and Anderson who are taller (and would have had Broad too if it weren't for injury). Australia would much rather it be pacy than spinning.

  • Martin on December 15, 2010, 9:42 GMT

    That's my whole point - Finn isn't even Englands main strike bowler; but he's already taken a whole swag of wickets. Agreed - Anderson is the stand out bowler. There's something of the Terry Alderman in him now. A real good man to have in your team; always likely to cause problems. Aus are going on about Beer - the mystery spinner - (who England have already had a look at) but hey; what about Englands mystery Beanpole pace guy Tremlett? Who Australia have not had a look at. Keep your eye on him. He was built for Perth....

  • Danish on December 15, 2010, 8:40 GMT

    Mission Suicide for Australia. England's Pace Bowlers are going to walk all over them if its really a pacy bouncy wicket

  • Mark on December 15, 2010, 7:17 GMT

    Englang have a lot more Height in their bowling attach Just saying

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