Pitch reading is well known to be a science with as much veracity as astrology. Drop-in pitch reading is slightly less respectable.
Melbourne, scene of the fourth Test which starts on Boxing Day, has drop-in pitches. That is they are dropped into the square having been prepared initially elsewhere at the end of each Australian Rules football season. Usually they are bland as a result.
MCG might stand for Melbourne Cricket Ground but it is first and foremost these days the home of AFL teams. Many more people watch the Australian winter sport there than the summer one.
But attention is suddenly focused as never before on this year's drop-in pitch and Australia's desire for it to possess the pace and bounce of the Waca at Perth, where they beat England by 267 runs to level the Ashes series at 1-1. The reason is two-fold. First, they want to encourage their suddenly rampant pace attack led by Mitchell Johnson with Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle in close attendance. Secondly, they would dearly love to neuter the menace of England's champion off-spinner, Graeme Swann, who had almost nothing to work with in Perth and was attacked unceremoniously.
England should not worry overmuch. The MCG is what it is and Andy Flower, England's coach, added some sense to the wildly speculative predictions yesterday.
"We won't see similar conditions in Melbourne because it doesn't bounce as much there," he said. "I thought the curator in Perth did a very good job. It was an excellent pitch as it was at Adelaide.
"This made for really exciting cricket, it was a pity it did not last longer from a spectators' point of view but I think that was really exciting cricket to watch. If they prepare a pitch with bounce and a little bit of help for the bowlers that makes it a good contest in Melbourne I think that is what they should be doing and it makes for a good spectacle." Often at the MCG the pitch is untrustworthy at first and becomes better. The surface for England's recent tour match against Victoria was pitifully slow and unhelpful to bowlers.
To keep England guessing this time, the MCG were working on two pitches for the Test match, always a risky business because one takes some looking after.
"When we were there for the three-day game they were preparing two pitches, one looked a little barer than the other and they were debating then which one they were going to use," said Flower. "I don't think they were that happy with the look of the slightly barer one so more than likely they will go with the one with a little better cover."
The more grass there is, the more helpful it will be for seam bowlers. It does not mean either that the ball will swing or, more improbably still, go through rapidly. If Swann can get a hint of turn, which is what all spin bowlers need, he will be effective. One indifferent game – and it is true he has to cope with Australia trying to attack him – and a bunch of experts are telling him how to bowl.
The Melbourne ground staff can do all the doctoring they like. They will not come up with another Waca. It is the MCG and the difference is not only in the initials.Reuse content