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

WACA groundsman hopes to revive past aura

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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

  • Silloh 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.

  • gogoldengreens 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.

  • crikkfan 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.

  • Something_Witty 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.

  • 5wombats 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?

  • Something_Witty 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.

  • Ozcricketwriter 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.

  • 5wombats 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....

  • DanishAnwar 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

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

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

  • Silloh 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.

  • gogoldengreens 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.

  • crikkfan 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.

  • Something_Witty 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.

  • 5wombats 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?

  • Something_Witty 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.

  • Ozcricketwriter 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.

  • 5wombats 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....

  • DanishAnwar 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

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

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

  • aslampgd on December 15, 2010, 6:30 GMT

    A pitch doesen't matter a lot for a winning team. Test Cricket requires to be adjusted with the the conditions

  • Okakaboka on December 15, 2010, 5:21 GMT

    No Johann Jayasekera, He doesn't really sound like an Australian Selector. Do you see hiim using sentences like: "Durrrrrr....errr...um..dor..dee..dum....errrrrrr..ooga..errr?? At least he speaks with some thought processes. Dropping Siddle (Aust leading wicket taker) for a 'repaired' Mitchell Johnston??? Oh good one!!!!! Just playing the local boy on his home paddock. And that is exactly what it will be after poor Mitchell hits various parts of the outfield with his wayward deliveries. This will not please the curator too much. As a matter of fact for the first time ever, a wicket keeper will need two long stops. There are some very angry Victorians out there in cricket land. AND....Hodge is a billion percent correct!!!!!

  • kiranmn on December 15, 2010, 5:11 GMT

    Well said jk.jeetukakwani, I love watching test cricket and its quite boring on flat pitches in sub-continent.Even though we may get some results due to spin, there is nothing better to watch a fast bowler bowling short pitch deliveries and batsman trying for a pull shot or getting out. I like that very much and just love watching ashes.

  • jk.jeetukakwani on December 15, 2010, 3:43 GMT

    its a gamble worth taking for australia to produce a result wicket in perth as they are up against the wall.they know very well this is the wicket where they can level the series bcoz the way m.c.g and s.c.g wickets are playing now a days its almost impossible for them to take 20 english wickets with such a poor attack.but this gamble can bring them down by 2-0 as this england team is one of the toughest opponent australians are facing in many years.we are eagerly waiting for this match and hope it will be a classic low scoring affair.there ashes tests are so exiting that though we indians have nothing to do with results even then we enjoy it a lot,much better than subcontinent boring test matches.really ashes is the true flavour of real test cricket.

  • Meety on December 15, 2010, 2:59 GMT

    @Sunil - the Gabba has a history of results. The problem this year was, (in Brisbane), unseasonally high rainfall. Almost everyday we have had at least half an inch of rain since about August, the temperatures are about 4 or 4 degrees below average. There was not much the curator could do. @Something_Witty - there are plenty of variables in getting the pitch right - it is still pretty new. @ 5wombats - nice statistics if you are a Pom - but the point is most of his 6 wicket haul at the Gabba were the tailenders having a slog. A wicket is a wicket I suppose - but circumstance & luck plays a part, that being said Anderson is miles out in front as the best bowler on tour - so far!

  • javed_mahir on December 15, 2010, 1:03 GMT

    Australlians must understand that Warne, glenn, Gilchrist, Langer and Hyden played in one team and players like them do not born ieveryday. Wickets can only do so much it's the quality of your players that win you matches. England are a much better side and it seems difficullt if not impossible for aussies to make a come back.

  • Puffin on December 15, 2010, 0:45 GMT

    Looks like a very important toss to win here. I wouldn't rush to bat first.

  • Will90 on December 15, 2010, 0:19 GMT

    @Something_Witty He means that he hopes the WACA ground will produce the kind of match it was known for in years gone by, which relies more than just on the pitch. The bounciest wicket in the world won't help mediocre bowlers.

  • landl47 on December 14, 2010, 21:54 GMT

    I hope it's a better pitch than the one the first game of the England tour was played on, although I wouldn't mind the same result.

  • 5wombats on December 14, 2010, 21:45 GMT

    Admittedly - Australia won that test last year after declaring. But the result was quite close. If the test match this year is played on a surface anything like the one prepared for the West Indies - then God help Australia; because this England side are significantly better, especially in the bowling department. Bollinger and Hauritz are not even in the Australia "team" anymore, and they were the chief destroyers. Now - if Hauritz can take wickets at Perth - how many more is Swann going to take? It'll be fun to watch. As for the current Aus pace bowlers; how much better is Finn? - who already on his own has taken the same number of wickets as the "best 2" Australia bowlers added together; 9 (Siddle and LOL Doherty). And Finn came to Australia as Englands 3rd Seamer for Petes sake... It doesn't matter what the curator at the WACA says or tries to produce - England are the better team. The surface won't matter.

  • pochard on December 14, 2010, 20:43 GMT

    @Something or other: of course, if you were curator I'm sure you'd do a much better job...

  • cabinet96 on December 14, 2010, 20:03 GMT

    @Something_Witty read the article he said he has been developing it back to the way it used to be and he hopes it will be ready by this test. If you don't understand read the article properly. Sheesh

  • on December 14, 2010, 15:40 GMT

    the curator sounds like a Australian selector, hitting and hoping

  • westindiancanadian on December 14, 2010, 14:28 GMT

    Can we start this thing right now???!!!! I can't wait. Good toss to win and bowl by the sounds of it. Too much talk about English bowlers.....Aussies got some "rapid" ones themselves.

  • Something_Witty on December 14, 2010, 12:17 GMT

    Why is he hoping for it? Is he the curator or isn't he? If it's not lively enough, do something about it. Sheesh.

  • on December 14, 2010, 12:13 GMT

    I am not gonna belive thease sutffs frm d curators, they gave hyper kind of hype to GABBA wicket ,but it panned out to b batting paradise just gonna belive pitches by their behavior

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  • on December 14, 2010, 12:13 GMT

    I am not gonna belive thease sutffs frm d curators, they gave hyper kind of hype to GABBA wicket ,but it panned out to b batting paradise just gonna belive pitches by their behavior

  • Something_Witty on December 14, 2010, 12:17 GMT

    Why is he hoping for it? Is he the curator or isn't he? If it's not lively enough, do something about it. Sheesh.

  • westindiancanadian on December 14, 2010, 14:28 GMT

    Can we start this thing right now???!!!! I can't wait. Good toss to win and bowl by the sounds of it. Too much talk about English bowlers.....Aussies got some "rapid" ones themselves.

  • on December 14, 2010, 15:40 GMT

    the curator sounds like a Australian selector, hitting and hoping

  • cabinet96 on December 14, 2010, 20:03 GMT

    @Something_Witty read the article he said he has been developing it back to the way it used to be and he hopes it will be ready by this test. If you don't understand read the article properly. Sheesh

  • pochard on December 14, 2010, 20:43 GMT

    @Something or other: of course, if you were curator I'm sure you'd do a much better job...

  • 5wombats on December 14, 2010, 21:45 GMT

    Admittedly - Australia won that test last year after declaring. But the result was quite close. If the test match this year is played on a surface anything like the one prepared for the West Indies - then God help Australia; because this England side are significantly better, especially in the bowling department. Bollinger and Hauritz are not even in the Australia "team" anymore, and they were the chief destroyers. Now - if Hauritz can take wickets at Perth - how many more is Swann going to take? It'll be fun to watch. As for the current Aus pace bowlers; how much better is Finn? - who already on his own has taken the same number of wickets as the "best 2" Australia bowlers added together; 9 (Siddle and LOL Doherty). And Finn came to Australia as Englands 3rd Seamer for Petes sake... It doesn't matter what the curator at the WACA says or tries to produce - England are the better team. The surface won't matter.

  • landl47 on December 14, 2010, 21:54 GMT

    I hope it's a better pitch than the one the first game of the England tour was played on, although I wouldn't mind the same result.

  • Will90 on December 15, 2010, 0:19 GMT

    @Something_Witty He means that he hopes the WACA ground will produce the kind of match it was known for in years gone by, which relies more than just on the pitch. The bounciest wicket in the world won't help mediocre bowlers.

  • Puffin on December 15, 2010, 0:45 GMT

    Looks like a very important toss to win here. I wouldn't rush to bat first.