Friday, November 19, 2010

Pitching it up: The Gabba

by Ben Roberts, Balanced Sports columnist.

The Gabba's traditional role as host to the first test of the Australian summer reflects the desire to avoid scheduling matches in the south-eastern states while they struggle to exit winter conditions, even in late November. The Brisbane climate however is by no means smooth sailing for cricketers. The humid sub-tropical conditions provide risk of serious thunderstorm at its extreme and a pitch that has been known for its treachery in the past.

The potential for chaotic cricket at the Gabba can be defined by the Ashes test of 1950, a match that Wisden was led to describe as one that was 'won and lost at the toss'. The villainous pitch, according to Wisden, was the reason for the galling defeat of England who they believe were the better performed side.

Australia's captain Lindsay Hassett won the toss a elected to bat in what were the best conditions of the match. Australia however did not excel and was bowled out for a disappointing 228. The tropics then entered and sent a thunderstorm creating a minefield of the uncovered pitch. The Englishman were instructed by their captain Freddie Brown to attack lest they remain batting too long before getting a chance at the Australians on this now treacherous pitch.

The English declared their innings closed at 68 for 7, and proceeded to rout the Australian batsmen, Hassett ultimately calling time with Australia 32 for 7 in their second innings. England required 193 in their second innings for victory, and the pitch while improving, remained difficult. England's second innings closed at 122 giving Australia victory by 60 runs. Leonard Hutton was the only batsman to succeed from both sides in passing 50, his 62 not out in the second innings nearly brought victory for the English.

The modern techniques and objectives of pitch preparation, including heavily covered pitches, mean that test matches similar to the 1950 Ashes test stand little chance of being repeated. The humid climate of Brisbane still causes the pitch to sweat while covered which can create some difficulties.

Shane Warne described the Gabba as one of his favourite grounds, and he had tremendous success on the pitch. Warne however was an attacking spinner and took risks with his bowling. Graeme Swann for England will likely play and his attacking style could net him wickets. Australia does not have a counter for Swann with omitted Australian spinner Nathan Hauritz relying more on subtle variation then on outright attack in taking wickets. The inexperience of Xavier Doherty and Steve Smith may also mean that they will bowl with more caution.

The pitch is renowned for being friendly to bowlers looking to hit the seam. It presents probably the best opportunity for Australia's pacemen to out-perform the English who are more akin to using swinging conditions. Shane Watson could be a factor in the test for Australia, keeping the seam straight, as complement to the strike bowlers. Likewise if the Gabba decides to play up Paul Collingwood for England could prove a useful part time option.

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