England can take heart from Gabba green-top

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The state of Graeme Swann's thumb may have occupied English thoughts in Perth, but over on the other side of Australia there came a more telling pointer as to what could await come 25 November and day one of the Ashes in Brisbane.

The verdict on Swann was "fine" – and it was certainly not enough to stop him tweeting – after England's first practice session since arriving Down Under. The WACA nets offered a quick surface but the venue for the third Test is not the speed track it once was and the seamers may find Brisbane more to their liking, especially after events there over the last couple of days.

A Sheffield Shield match at the Gabba lasted only two days with 30 wickets falling as New South Wales bowled out Queensland for 75 and 96. The first Test is regarded as the key to the series and with Swann giving England a huge advantage when it comes to spin, the pitch for the opener is likely to favour the quicker bowlers. Last weekend's game on a green surface certainly favoured swing with overcast conditions ensuring a torrid time for the home batsmen.

It was Mark Cameron, a 29-year-old quick bowler known as the Scud, who did the damage, taking 11 wickets – and he is now being touted as an outside bet for Ricky Ponting's side.

"It was very, very cloudy,'' said Cameron. "The wicket at the Gabba was a bit green, and it was that old saying of 'look up, not down at the Gabba'. The ball was swinging around. You couldn't get better bowling conditions, to be honest.''

The Gabba has received more rainfall than usual and the groundsman, Kevin Mitchell, said that much more unsettled weather could lead to similar conditions come the first Test. "If there are some cloudy and humid days then the moisture will stay in the wicket and the grass will continue to grow – that's what happens in the tropics. So it would be something that could possibly happen," he said. "We are hoping for 10 or 12 days including the duration of the match to have nice sunny days – if that happens it will be a fantastic match. If we don't get all that it will still be a fantastic match – you just won't see as many runs."

Australia have a daunting record in Brisbane, having not lost a Test there since 1988, and the first Test Down Under has set the tone for the last two series. In 2002, England lost by 384 runs – Nasser Hussain having put in Australia in the misguided expectation of a sporting pitch. And four years ago, England lost by 277 runs in the wake of Steve Harmison's infamous first ball.

England play their first warm-up game on Friday and Stuart Broad said yesterday that they would take on Western Australia at full tilt, with no thought of easing themselves into the tour. "We know what an important week this is," said Broad. "We're going to take the WA game very seriously, and try and get some really good preparation in before the first Test.

"I've got a competitive spirit. We know that Australia fight very hard and play cricket in the right way. It's international cricket, so you expect that. It's something I obviously need to find a good balance to. I know I bowl at my best when I'm in a bit of a 'bubble', emotional and competitive. I'd expect the Aussies to [look to] get under each of our players' skins. But that's not something we're scared of; it's something we're going to thrive on. There's a lot of confidence."

Countdown to the Ashes: 23

Australian batsmen have scored a total of 23 double-hundreds against England in the Ashes since the first Test in 1882, Sir Donald Bradman hitting eight. In comparison, England have recorded 11 double-centuries against the Aussies.