Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pitching it up: The WACA

Ben Roberts of World Cricket Watch and Balanced Sports inspects the pitch at the WACA prior to the 3rd test.

When Mike Gatting won the toss and elected to bat in the second test of the 1986-87 Ashes series it was the first time that any captain had elected to bat first on the WACA pitch in 10 test matches. In fact, prior to this match from the 13 previous tests, only twice had the captain winning the toss elected to bat.

The pitch at the WACA is renowned as being one of the fastest and bounciest in the cricketing world. In conjunction with the pitch characteristics, the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ blows in off the Indian ocean during the afternoon, assisting bowlers looking to move the ball through the air.

Despite these attractions the WACA can breed a false sense of confidence within a fired up fast bowler. The highlights reel of the ‘Master Blaster’ Vivian Richards pasting the Australian attack all over the WACA in 1988 is a definite lesson to all bowlers that you can bowl too short on this pitch. Richards stroked a dominant 146 off only 150 balls, playing across the line with ease to anything short.

Bowlers allowing the conditions to complement their natural talents and attributes will succeed at the WACA. There is no need to force the pace. The Ashes test of 1986 saw success for Bruce Reid and Graham Dilley, both of whom were blessed with tremendous height and natural bowling actions. The metronomic Glenn McGrath is the leading wicket taker at the ground, and Western Australian fast bowler Jo Angel never appeared over-exerted in taking many WACA wickets throughout his first-class career.

More recent history at the WACA has seen the captain that wins the toss electing to bat more often. This perhaps is more a reflection of the Australian dominance and attacking psyche, but also could be influenced by the generally more sedate pitch preparation. The need for Australia to push for victory, combined with England’s fast bowling stocks, may render the toss irrelevant. Both sides are likely to elect that Australia should bat first.

With Stuart Broad now injured, and based on players who have been successful at the WACA, the English should strongly consider selecting Chris Tremlett. His 201cm height and ease through the crease appears a match made in heaven with the WACA pitch. Tremlett complementing Graeme Swann, Stephen Finn and James Anderson would still be a potentially dominant attack. This assumes Tremlett will be selected; Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shazad are still in the touring party also. It’s a palatable problem to have for the tourists.

The options for Australia are less palatable. Bollinger, Siddle, Johnson and Harris are all attacking bowlers who enjoy pitching the ball short of a length; none seeming a great match for the WACA pitch. If the selectors had remained willing to make changes to the bowling lineup, a recent 9 wicket haul against Tasmania and an imposing 203cm height might have meant the South Australian Peter George could have been a worthy selection.

The English enter the Perth test with the better matched bowling attack for the conditions and a top-order in form. The best plan for the Australians will be for the thus far faltering top order to put scoreboard pressure on the English with a large first innings total.

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