New pitch adds to the intrigue as the second Test looms
Adelaide Oval groundsman believes it will play a little slower than usual
Lightning flashes in the sky above a new stand under construction at the Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, yesterday. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA.
Thunder cracked ominously overhead as Damian Hough stood on his new outfield and offered some insight into the 22 yards of freshly cultivated turf in the middle on which the destiny of the second Test will rest.
Hough is the Adelaide Oval groundsman and his pitch, as most of the cricket world knows by now, is a drop-in developed outside the stadium. It was inserted into the square in September, where along with seven similar strips, it will remain until the end of the cricket season when footie takes over. It will then be removed.
It will be, or rather he hopes it will be, a pitch of the Adelaide Oval old school; slowish, good for batting, bit crumbly later with the prospect of some turn but also reverse swing and uneven bounce. However, he cannot be really sure. The construction is of the same soil that has been stockpiled for pitches for the last three decades and the grass that helps bind it is the same, so in theory it ought to play the same.
Except this is not an exact science. On the two pitches that have been used by South Australia for Sheffield Shield matches, Hough has experimented with the grass length and there have been two mundane draws.
Almost eight hours
Yet Adelaide has tended to produce results: only four Tests have been drawn in the last two decades, including the last played on the old block a year ago when Faf du Plessis batted for almost eight hours to save South Africa from defeat.
Hough confessed he is not really sure because no match has had a fifth day on the drop-in pitch, which is when things at Adelaide have always started to get interesting. He believes it will play a little slower than usual.
Close up inspection
Yet even those who have seen the pitch close up have made differing assessments. On the one hand, it is said to look an excellent pitch, on the other, it is very dry, in an eyebrow-raising sort of way. All of which will make team selection a tricky business. Take the first scenario, along with Hough’s assessment. England have adjustments to make in any case following Jonathan Trott’s return home with the primary concern being who should replace him at number three.
The two candidates, Joe Root and Ian Bell, have different claims to the position. Bell is now one of only three senior batsmen and has enjoyed a stellar year batting at five. There are calls for him to “take responsibility” and step up two places but if many of the great players have aspired to bat there, it seems counterproductive to upset further the dynamic of the middle order, particularly when in Australia where the new ball can be potent.