Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pitching it up: Bellerive Oval

by Balanced Sports columnist Ben Roberts

Granted the 2010-11 Ashes series will not in part be fought out on the pitch at Bellerive. We will however later this week see the the touring English XI take on Australia 'A', where a considerable number test hopefuls for both teams will seek to hold the selectors attention prior to the first test.

Bellerive is very much a forgotten ground by mainland Australian cricket followers. Whereas the general pitch characteristics of the mainland test venues may roll of the tongue from even spasmodic cricket fans, I must admit that when thinking of Bellerive I had to shrug my shoulders. Test cricket has only graced Bellerive since 1989, and since then only nine test matches have been played in total.

A cousin of mine works as part of the ground team at Bellerive so I had a good source to whom I could inquire for information on this pitch. Three main inputs provide a unique challenge for the ground team at Bellerive. Firstly, the use of rye rather than couch grass means that the pitch has to be carefully monitored as it will dry out quickly, the leaf will be left as long as possible that gives a bit for the bowlers. Secondly, adding to the challenge of keeping the pitch moist is the potential for brutal winds that will zap the moisture out at fast rate. Finally, the clay in the soil doesn't break up with use so there is generally less opportunity for spinners. This is of course unless your name is 'Shane' or 'Murali'.

Given the option, pacemen from both sides will be hoping that in the lead up to the match there is some moisture around and come the match day they are provided with still overcast conditions. A lack of moisture and stronger wind will threaten to flatten the pitch out early and gift batsman easy runs. The tests played of recent history have been characterised by big scores, this of course may also be reflective of Australia's dominance in the past 20 years and the generally weaker touring teams drawn to play against Australia at Bellerive.

Australia's finest moment at Bellerive was the 4 wicket win over Pakistan in 1999. Australia, facing a three pronged pace attack of Akram, Younis and Akhtar, recovered from being 126 for 5 to post the third highest fourth innings total of 369 for 6 and claim victory. Adam Gilchrist announced his entry into test match cricket by posting his maiden century in his second match sharing the match winning partnership with Justin Langer. On that day Pakistan’s lethal fast bowling trio toiled joylessly on a wicket that had dried throughout the match.

With the above in mind, look for England to perhaps rest its test bowling line up, aware that if conditions are not right they may toil as Pakistan did 11 years ago and stunt momentum before the first test. Australia 'A' includes genuine test prospects Khwaja and Ferguson in its batting order who will want to use the favourable conditions to really cement their places as the next in line for a test call up.

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