Cardiff in race to prepare a pitch fit for the Ashes

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The Independent Online

Seam and swing bowling did most of the damage in Co Durham. But, come Cardiff and the start of the Ashes series in a couple of months, England may be more tempted than ever to go down the spin route following official condemnation of a pitch that turned square during a recent one-day game.

The controversial decision to stage the first Test against Australia at the Swalec Stadium, or Sophia Gardens to give the ground its pre-sponsorship name, has already led to criticism along the lines of money counting for more than either tradition or cricketing common sense.

Now, though, the pressure is really on both Glamorgan and the England and Wales Cricket Board. A pitch used for the county's Friends Provident Trophy match against Essex last week was rated "poor" by the umpires and last night the ECB's pitch panel – led by the former Test captain Mike Denness – agreed with that verdict, stating that it had "demonstrated excessive turn".

The strip in question – not the one being prepared for July's first Test – offered the Essex leg-spinner Danish Kaneria so much assistance that he took 4 for 16 in 10 overs with Glamorgan relieved to total 124 after being 57 for 7 at one stage. Now they have been hit again, to the extent of starting next season's FPT campaign on minus two points, and all eyes will be on their preparations for the Ashes encounter.

With Shane Warne safely retired and Australia struggling to find a spinner worthy of the description, England were already being encouraged by many observers to consider picking both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar whenever possible this summer. But if the Test strip at Cardiff misbehaves in any way – favouring bowlers of any kind too much – then the decision to go there, rather than Old Trafford, Trent Bridge or the Riverside, could come back to haunt the ECB.

Worry not, insists Glamorgan's director of cricket, and former England player, Matthew Maynard. "I've played on a lot of wickets worse than the one we used last Tuesday and they haven't been marked as poor," Maynard said. "Obviously, we haven't played on the Test wicket at all, but the ground looks an absolute picture and I'm sure [groundsman] Keith Exton will get the Ashes strip right."

Whatever awaits in Cardiff, Andrew Strauss and his England team know they will need to be at their best to regain the urn. The Wisden Trophy was handed back to them without a struggle, but this summer's second opponents are unlikely to be remotely generous. No wonder, then, Strauss decided against roaring "bring on the Aussies – we're ready to give them a damn good thrashing" when he reviewed events yesterday. "I don't think we are getting carried away that we are the complete article at this stage," Strauss said. "We still need to keep improving and working hard if we want to be the best team in the world, but – small steps – we are going in the right direction."

Considering England began 2009 by sacking their coach, Peter Moores, telling the captain, Kevin Pietersen, to resign and then losing a Test series in the Caribbean, there has been a fair bit of progress in May. Not just winning a couple of matches but recreating an atmosphere of trust and togetherness under the leadership of Strauss and the team director, Andy Flower, which should give them a chance of ruffling Australian feathers in a couple of months.