Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ashes 2010/11- Sydney cricket ground

A few months ago, I did promise that I would look at the various cricket grounds in Australia. So today, I would like to share my views about  the Sydney cricket ground, or more famously known as SCG. The Sydney cricket ground situated in the Moore park in the city's east has a rich history and tradition as cricket has been played on that ground for more than 150 years now. Every year, the match at Sydney is known as the new year's test as it is played at the start of every year on either Jan. 2nd or 3rd. The ground has  been graced by many great players and  it is a witness to some of the classic tests ever played.

History of cricket at Sydney

To encapsulate the history of Sydney cricket ground in a few lines is a near impossible task yet, I would like to write in brief about the beautiful Sydney cricket ground. It is amazing and may even sound untrue to cricket fans, but the fact is, once upon a time, the SCG was a rubbish dump before it got transformed into one of cricket's major centres. The interesting part is, it was known as garrison ground.  It was only in 1924, did it came to be known as Sydney cricket ground.

As the years went by, the ground was developed by the administrators and by the time the first test was played in 1882,  already two grandstands could be seen. Two spectators mounds were also built  in 1886.  If we think about the developments that have taken place, one of the key point to notice is, the relationship between the trust and the New South Wales cricket board has always been strained which in turn has affected the development of Sydney cricket ground.

Nowadays, the hill, or more famously known as the Yabba Hill is sadly not there at the Sydney ground  instead we can see O'Reilly, Noble and the Walters stands.  The ladies pavilion is still there, but the disappearance of the Yabba hill and the outfield not looking as lush as it used to be, would perhaps make a cricket fan think that Sydney cricket ground has lost some of its sheen .

Conditions at the Sydney cricket ground

Historically, the Sydney cricket ground has been a good track for batting and more than a few huge scores have been made. Bradman's magnificent knock of 452 not out came on this very ground. The pitch has tended to help spinners on the fourth and fifth day yet, spinners have had to work hard for their wickets. With so many tests being played at SCG,  there have been a few exceptions, but the track is generally good for batting with the spinners coming into play on the final two days of the match. For instance, in a bid to stop the rampaging West Indies from winning every test, the Aussies prepared a  rank bad turner in 88/89. It surely helped a part-timer like Border to take a 10 wicket haul as Australia achieved their objective of winning the test. It is another matter altogether that Aussies still couldn't stop the great Malcolm Marshall from taking yet another five wicket haul on what was said to be a spinners paradise! In 02/03, the pitch became a minefield on the fifth day and it helped all sorts of bowlers.  Both in 99/00 and in 09/10, there was too much sideways movement on the first two days mainly thanks to incessant rain.

As expected, Shane Warne has enjoyed the conditions at Sydney by taking 64 wickets, but his bowling average of 28 shows that it isn't a piece of cake to take wickets on that pitch. In-fact, Stuart Macgill has a better strike rate and even a better average than Warne. In the recent past, few subcontinental spinners have occasionally found success like Mushie in 95/96, or Kumble in 03/04 and again in 07/08.

Now, it doesn't mean that faster men won't get any encouragement from the surface at Sydney. I have always felt that Sydney is one ground in Australia, where the new ball can swing albeit just for a few overs. Hoggy got the new ball to swing at Sydney in 02/03 and even at his lowest ebb Anderson found some swing in 06/07 and got three wickets. A few cracks can also open up which in turn can help the taller bowlers to hit those cracks and get variable bounce. The Windies bowlers of the past like Wambrose  (Ambrose and Walsh) were very good at hitting the cracks that would open up. The canny Fannie De Villiers did the same on a great day for the Saffers as they were able to defeat Australia at Sydney in 93/94 by just five runs.  I am not too keen on including the heroics of Caddick in 02/03 as that became a minefield on the last day.

A few keen observers of Sheffield Shield may argue that track at Sydney has flattened out, but I don't think that is the case when it comes to test cricket. Yes, when I look at the 2009/10 Sheffield Shield season, I can at least think of five scores of over 400 at Sydney, but I have always thought the wickets prepared for test matches have a bit of life in it. This year there have been more than a few low scores all over Australia  because of overcast conditions. Just yesterday, Tasmania won a low scoring game in which neither Tasmania nor New South Wales were able to get even 200 runs. No one can predict though, whether the conditions will remain the same when the test match would be played at Sydney.

England at Sydney 

First the good news, unlike some of the other grounds in Australia, England have managed to win a test  at Sydney in the last twenty years. The victory came in 02/03, but unfortunately it was a dead rubber. The pitch at Sydney in 02/03 was a bit strange as it became unplayable on the last day with huge cracks being visible. I still remember a young Harmison getting Martin Love with a delivery that didn't even reach the height of the batsman's knees which was followed up by Caddick getting a delivery to bounce awkwardly and Gilly could only feather a edge to the keeper. Caddick enjoyed bowling on that surface as he took a ten wicket haul.

In 94/95, England held the upper-hand thanks to the wholehearted efforts of Gough. First with the bat, he slogged a fifty and followed it up with a five wicket haul in helpful conditions. Australia though, were able to draw that match as the spin twins Warne and May came to their rescue not with the ball, but interestingly by batting for more than 20 overs on the last day. In 98/99, Australia were in a spot of bother in the first innings before the younger Waugh played another of his special knocks and it was followed up by Slater butchering the bowling in the second innings as England crashed to another defeat in Australia. I don't think I have to say much about what happened during England's ill fated Ashes campaign in 06/07!

If I think about England's strategy at Sydney, first and foremost, I do hope that team management won't fall into the trap of going with two spinners. Only if a team has two decent spinners, both spinners should play. Yes, someone may point out to me that Hemmings and Tufnell were successful at the same venue back in 90/91 as they took eight wickets between them in the second innings, but generally it isn't a good strategy. A few may even point to the fact that Monty is a decent spinner, but batsmen nowadays play him better as they have realised that he doesn't have an arm ball and doesn't really flight the ball. Of course, Swann would be a key bowler, especially in the second innings. I won't like to bore everyone again by saying that how effective he can be against all those lefthanders Australia have.

When it come to the quickies, the taller bowlers like Broad, Finn, or Tremlett may come in handy in the second innings as the pitch may deteriorate and there maybe a few cracks to aim at. Jimmy Anderson would likely get a bit of swing with the new ball and may get the older ball to reverse as the surface at Sydney isn't as lush as it used to be.

For the bowlers to succeed, the batsmen though have to do well on a track that is usually good for batting. Even if England don't win the toss, I don't think Strauss would be too perturbed as there is no Macgill, or Warne in the opposition ranks. The batsmen surely won't lose their sleep by thinking about the likes of Hauritz, Doherty, Smith, or Keefe. If the conditions are overcast, it would be a different ball game altogether and in that case Strauss may elect to bowl first.

Australia at Sydney

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, if I say that Australia have been almost invincible at Sydney in the last decade. During that period they have won ten matches, lost one and drew one game. In-fact, Australia have won all their last seven matches including the recently concluded controversial tests against India in 07/08 and Pakistan in 09/10 respectively. Yes, Pakistan had a chance to defeat a slightly weaker Australian team this year, but Pakistan's captain Yousuf set some strange fields and gifted the match to Australia.

One has to go back to the early 90's, when Australia found it difficult to win matches and were able to only draw them. Between 89/90 to 95/96, they drew five games and lost couple of games, but didn't win anything. A few of those games were played, when Warne wasn't yet playing for Australia. Warne made his debut at Sydney in 91/92, but the Indian batsmen made a inexperienced spinner look ordinary. The couple of losses can be attributed to outstanding spells bowled by De Villiers in 93/94 and Mushie in 95/96 respectively. The games played by Australia in the early 90's is perhaps a better indicator about how Australia may do this time around as once the likes of Warne and Macgill began to weave their magic, Aussies almost became invincible at Sydney.

From Australia's point of view, it is imperative that if not as a wicket-taker, their spinner would at least do the holding job by drying up the runs. Among the seamers, Bollinger can do well as he is good at reversing the older ball. Hilfenhaus may swing the new ball and cause some problems. More than their bowling, the batting seems to be a bigger problem as most of their batsmen aren't in good form.

Finally, looking at both the squads, one can predict that unlike the recent past, the series would be alive when both teams travel to Sydney for the final test. As a cricket aficionado, I do hope that is the case as dead rubbers can get boring to watch.


Suhas said...

Great work, as always. I've generally felt that the SCG wicket is more subcontinent-like in nature actually. As you mentioned the reverse swing factor and how the quicks can use the deterioration to good effect later in the day. Some of my SCG memories include:

1. Ravi Shastri scoring 206 in 1992, taking heavy toll of a certain debutant called SK Warne.

2. Atherton declaring with Hick on 98* in 1995, and the debate that followed.

3. Mark Waugh saving the test against the saffers in '98, and nobody noticing he was out hit-wicket.

4. Gough's hattrick and Slater's matchwinning century (and his runout not being given) in '99.

5. Stuart MacGill often being included specifically for the test at SCG in a series after being ignored otherwise.

6. Sachin's 241 and SR Waugh's farewell, 2004.

7. The entire 2008 India test (but that would need a chapter to itself).

..and many more

greyblazer said...

Some fine knocks including Hick's 98 though I remember that test more for Gough's efforts. Mark Waugh's hit-wicket incident happened at Adelaide in 97/98.Yes he tormented the Saffers even at Sydney by getting a 100 during that season but it would be remembered as Warne's test as he got a 10 for and took his 300th wicket?

The track would likely help spinners later on in the match and nowadays it can help bowlers to get reverse swing. It would get interesting if the conditions get overcast.