Old Trafford Diary: What might have been for Marron: Freddie let loose on his perfect pitch

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The Independent Online

Peter Marron, a smiling, impish figure with blue eyes, grey hair and a deeply tanned face, thinks he is the first working groundsman to be given a benefit, and he rewarded his audience for the Second Test with a pitch that is the talk of the town. Although he is only 51, Marron has been head groundsman for 23 years, and he is a fixture at Old Trafford. His highly regarded pitches are made to his own recipe - Surrey loam in the middle and natural soil at each end to help the spinners.

This pitch is a replica of one Fred Flintoff liked so well in a Twenty20 game recently that he asked for the same thing at the Test. Marron notes that, had Flintoff bowled with Stephen Harmison on Thursday, he hates to think of the mayhem they might have caused.

He does not take all the credit. It's the sun what's done it. Cracks have opened in the heat that give the pitch its unpredictable quality. But it has never been unplayable, and Marron warned the England players on Friday that they should not take a win for granted.


On fine, hot days in front of full houses on a spicy pitch, the idea of Old Trafford being denied an Ashes Test in 2009 seems utterly outrageous. But Lancashire's powers that be may be making the best of a bad job. Ambitious proposals to redevelop the venue as a Test arena to rival Lord's will require the complete closure of the ground for at least 12 months.

First outline plans for the ground, and the hotel and leisure centre across the Talbot Road, are due this autumn. If they go ahead, and Lancashire can raise the £25m or so needed to revive Old Trafford, the county would spend the summer of 2009 by the seaside, at Blackpool, or near the Mersey, at Aigburth. Not Lytham, however; apparently there is more sand on the outfield than on the beach.


Monty Panesar has still to learn some of the finer points of Test cricket. Doing the high-fives requires the delighted bowler to clap hands with his colleagues, but Monty's style is so randomly enthusiastic that his colleagues risk getting a finger in the eye. Perhaps he should seek out the originator of the congratulatory mêlée at the fall of a wicket.

He was at Old Trafford yesterday. Richie Benaud is credited with the theory that a polite nod and a decent handshake are no way to mark a dismissal. As Australia's captain in the late 1950s, he said that an emotional outburst might be good for the team and the bowler. It all began during the Ashes tour of 1958-59. "We were more exuberant than we'd been before," says Benaud, "but it was still only high two-and-a-halves."


The 50th anniversary of Jim Laker's Old Trafford Test - he took 19 Australian wickets for 90 - is a reminder of groundsman Bert Flack's controversial pitch. Very dry to begin with - too dry, Flack thought, but England's captain, Peter May, talked him out of watering it - the pitch began to turn and bounce extravagantly when the rain fell and then the sun shone.

Flack expected and feared that his pitch would be front-page news for days afterwards. His blushes were saved by world-shattering events: Colonel Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal, and Marilyn Monroe's marriage to Joe DiMaggio. But the Aussies didn't forget. One rationalisation for fielding three or four chuckers of the cricket ball in the 1958-59 Ashes series was that, since England had cheated in 1956, they were entitled to do so in the return bout, thus contradicting the useful principle that two wrongs don't make a right.


True, Pakistan's fans did not have much to cheer about at Old Trafford, but even if they had, there were not enough of them to make much noise. The large turnout that had been expected turned out to be no more than a sprinkling.

Jim Cumbes, Lancashire's chief executive, explains that the first four days were sold out four months ago. The club like that because they do not have to cope with large amounts of cash at the turnstiles, but Pakistani fans are spontaneous consumers who tend not to buy tickets beforehand.

Tickets for cash are on sale only on the last day. "If the game goes on until Monday, half the people in the ground will be Pakistanis," said Cumbes, before Harmison and Panesar put paid to that idea.