Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pitching it up: Adelaide Oval

by Balanced Sports columnist Ben Roberts.

The theory goes that South Australia's unorthodox yet supremely effective left-handed batsman Darren Lehmann would have played more for Australia, except that he played his first-class cricket on the Adelaide Oval. Lehmann throughout the 1990's was a batting colossus of the Australian domestic scene, yet waited until 1998 to make his Test match debut. Adelaide Oval is known (Lehmann may say 'tainted') as a batsman's paradise.

Adelaide's hot and dry weather provides challenge to the ground team to produce a pitch that is anything but rock hard in the summer months. Recent history has scheduled the Test match in early to mid December, away from the searing heat of late January. But early December in Adelaide is hot and dry enough.

The English may have had fond memories of the Adelaide Oval in 2006, if it wasn't for one Shane Warne. Seemingly to date, no Australian pitch can escape being defined at least in part by him. It takes a special bowler to not just succeed but dominate on the Adelaide pitch.

Wisden describes a match that went 4 days and 43 minutes toward a draw dominated by batsmen. Collingwood and Pieterson (206 & 158) for England, then Ponting and Clarke (142 & 124) for Australia, enjoyed the conditions to the full. England looked like batting out the final day to the draw until Warne stepped up and turned the match. He only took 4 wickets but created so much doubt in his 32 overs for 49 runs, the English batsman crumbled either to him or others eventually. Australia winning by 6 wickets with 19 balls to spare.

In a match that both batting line ups will be looking toward with anticipation, Graeme Swann looks the wildcard. From both sides Swann is the only slow bowler who has form for dominating batsmen. Spinners in general will be key; the expectation on them will be to bowl extensive and tight overs giving the pacemen a decent rest in the heat while carrying the attack to the batsmen.

Attacking batsmen Pieterson and Ponting may be worth watching. Pieterson will have fond memories of Adelaide in 2006, and Ponting has the greatest number of test centuries and highest total runs at Adelaide in test match history. English or Australian batsman under pressure should heed the warning that in such a friendly environment they will be expected to succeed. Should they fail, selection in the remainder of the series will not be guaranteed.

Australian batting failure may have Chairman of Selectors Andrew Hilditch dreaming of a left-handed South Australian who regularly put bowlers to the sword on the Adelaide Oval.

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