WACA curator's uphill battle for pace, bounce

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A few pitches in Australia have lost their characteristics – Starc

Nobody wants to atone for last year’s road-like WACA pitch more keenly than the curator Matt Page. However, circumstances of climate and schedule have conspired to increase the degree of difficulty for the ground staff commissioned to restore a slowing surface to its former glory.

The New Zealand Test began on November 13 last year, 10 days later than this one, providing extra time for the surface to harden under the Perth sun. Additionally, this year, an unseasonably cold Spring has prevented the WACA’s block of 10 pitches from baking in the sort of heat more commonly associated with the venue.

Moving the WACA Test to the start of summer, after more than 20 years of opening Test matches at the Gabba in Brisbane, has complicated life for Page and his staff. That decision was based around Cricket Australia’s desire to hold a second day-night Test in the 2016-17 season while ensuring both visitors – South Africa and Pakistan – played one apiece. Perth is considered too late a time zone to host a match starting any later than a day Test.

Nevertheless, Page has worked off the knowledge gained last season to try to produce a livelier deck. “We’ve done things a little bit differently this year,” he said on Wednesday. “We’ve left a little more green grass on it, we’ve also adjusted our water.

“Being November, we don’t usually get the high temperatures we need to bake that surface to try to give us every possibility to get something that will go through and give the bowlers a good crack at the batters. [The weather’s] not been great, but we’ve tinkered with our prep to try to get a harder surface than we would normally see here this time of year and just try to help it go through a bit quicker.”

There has been a little more green grass left on the WACA pitch © Daniel Brettig

Unlike the WACA practice pitches, which have retained their traditional clay base and have thus remained arguably the quickest in the world, successive operations on the WACA’s square have left it less settled than it should be. So some strips are faster than others, with the central one not necessarily so, to suit the commercial demands of television. This year’s pitch is the same as last year’s.

“The ones on this [east] side of the block seem to be a bit quicker, they’ve all got their own little characteristics, the 10 wickets out there, they all do little things,” Page said. “There are some that are a little bit quicker than others. This one is a normal Test-match wicket. We saw a couple of one-dayers here a couple of years ago with South Africa when it went through really well.

“Last year was not so good, so we’re hoping that it’s more towards that South African wicket of a couple of years ago. Hopefully it’ll [also] be something very similar to the last Shield game we had. There was a bit of bounce there, there was a bit of seam, something there for the bowlers, something there for the batters, there were three hundreds. That’s sort of what we’re looking for this time of year, being November.”

Page was philosophical about the chances of getting things back to the old days, even as the construction of Perth’s new multipurpose stadium meant many major matches will be shifted elsewhere. “It’s something we’re working towards and we’ve seen wickets here since the wicket that was reconstructed that have really gone through well,” he said. “Our biggest issue is our consistency, they’re not consistently quick. That’s what we’re working towards to make sure it happens.

“There’s pressure with every wicket you produce at the WACA, there’s that reputation of the pace and the bounce and getting it back consistently to the way it was in the 1970s. That’s what we try to do with all our wickets, sometimes we get there, sometimes we don’t. I’m pretty confident we’ll have a wicket that will have a bit in it for both batters and bowlers.”

One form of pressure that won’t be on Page is to tailor a pitch to the specific demands of the home team. Everyone knows what to expect at the WACA – the tricky bit is meeting those expectations.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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