Ashes diary: The Gabba's groundsman flatly denies allegations pitches are too flat

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The Independent Online

There are those who would ascribe Australia's struggles thus far to a worrying inability to bowl or catch, but not everyone is so easily satisfied. There must be another culprit, and so the two belting batting tracks we've seen in Brisbane and Adelaide have come under fire.

Ricky Ponting's boys, it appears, have suffered because the pitches have been just a little too flat. Well, Kevin Mitchell, the groundsman at The Gabba, is not having it. "It's easy to say, '1-500, we'll start blaming that,' but I thought the ball was still coming through and the wicketkeeper was taking it above his chest at times," he said. "To me, there's still bounce there but it was playing fairly truly. I just think the batters are on top at the moment.

"Over the years, you've had the likes of Warne and McGrath, and if you've got some handy bowlers like that they're going to dominate. In the last few years, the Aussies have been on top and they get big scores, it's just turned around a little bit where the visitors have got the big scores instead."

Mitchell, warming to his theme, pointed out that the pitch at The Gabba was pretty much the same as it has been for the past 20 years.

"Probably in Brisbane's case this year we didn't have the heat to deteriorate the wicket as much as it normally did with regards to the footmarks," Mitchell said. "Saying that, it was a touch slow early but similar to a four-day match, but [there was] a fair bit of movement sideways for the seamers and it flattened out to be a pretty good batting track and cracks opened up and there were some footmarks to bowl at. I didn't see too much [that was] different."

Pietersen put off by Warne's face

Kevin Pietersen had another good day yesterday but not everything went to plan. While batting he stepped away from the wicket as Doug Bollinger raced in. What could have put him off? His best mate Warnie's ugly mug, as it turned out: that fast food advert was still up on the sightscreen. During the Edgbaston Test against Pakistan in the summer Pietersen, of course, did something very similar but spooned the ball to a fielder who claimed his dismissal. Pietersen hasn't learnt. Yesterday he flicked it up and caught it himself: handled the ball is another mode of dismissal.

Aussie hacks write off their own boys

There are still three Tests to go but that famous Aussie fighting spirit doesn't seem much in evidence among the members of Her Majesty's Australian press. "Burn the bails. Australia showed fight and grit and determination but the truth of the matter is that England can still retain the urn before Christmas," wrote Will Swanton of the Herald Sun at the end of the fourth day in Adelaide. "There are confidence problems, form issues, batting dramas, bowling concerns, fielding woes and selection troubles for Australia. Apart from that, all is well," he added, reaching for the revolver.

'Sherminator' no more

Ian Bell was tipped by no less an authority than Michael Holding to be England's top Ashes run scorer, but that seems somewhat unlikely now given the mountain of runs scored by those above him in the line-up.

At least, though, he's earning a little bit of respect Down Under. Shane Warne, who gave Bell the nickname The Sherminator (after a nerdy character in the film 'American Pie') the last time England were in Australia, has been so impressed by the Warwickshire man's form he's upgraded him: now he's The Terminator.

Bungle-free Clarke back with Bingle?

Michael Clarke is Australia's answer to David Beckham. He used to go out with the model Lara Bingle, and the pair were regular tabloid fodder before their split. One Australian paper recently calculated his batting average before and after the split with Bingle (much, much lower afterwards). Given his return to form on the fourth day, we can only assume a reconciliation is on the cards.