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Monday, December 14, 2009

A wicket with character . . . about time

FOR almost all my international career, Perth had been a fortress for Australia.

I made my Test debut there in December 1995, when we comfortably beat Sri Lanka, was dropped when the West Indies won there the following season, and went the next 10 years never experiencing defeat at the WACA Ground.

The pace and bounce of Perth was usually too much for the opposition. Six of our victories there in my time were by more than an innings, one by seven wickets, another by almost 500 runs and another by more than 200 runs.

With very rare exceptions, Perth and Brisbane were the two places we felt most confident of victory because of the extra bounce in the pitch.

Yet as batsmen we loved playing there. The pitches played with great consistency and the ball came on to the bat so you had the confidence to play your shots, making for entertaining cricket.

I am looking forward to playing on that type of Perth pitch again in the third Test against the West Indies, beginning tomorrow. .

It had become lower and slower in recent seasons, continuing the trend of pitches around the world that are losing, or have lost, their character.

This season there have been good reports coming out of Perth, with NSW beating Western Australia inside three days thanks to an excellent bowling performance from Doug Bollinger on a lively pitch. If the Test pitch is something similar that is great news for players, and great news for the fans, who will see plenty of lively cricket.

The pitch being prepared for this Test does have a good cover of grass but we'll wait until today before having a close look at it.

Certainly all the signs are encouraging because for most of my career Perth has been one of the great places to play cricket.

Cricket needs more pitches like the WACA Ground of old, a wonderful contrast to the type of slow, low wickets you find in so many places now.

This reduces one of the great joys of Test cricket, to be challenged on unique surfaces, something which Australia could once boast about. Each of its major cricket grounds had a distinctly different surface.

If you could learn to cope with a variety of difference surfaces around the country and around the world, whether you were a batsman or a bowler, you were considered the complete Test cricketer.

That challenge is now going out of Test cricket as pitches around the globe develop a sameness. Low, slow pitches can make for bland, one-sided cricket where bat dominates ball and results can be difficult to achieve.

This is my concern for Test cricket on the subcontinent in particular, where there can be some real batathons.

It was no surprise to us that the West Indies batted well in Adelaide. The slow, low pitch was always going to suit their style of play. However, if the WACA Ground pitch is anything like the Perth of my younger days, I think they'll struggle like they struggled in Brisbane during the first Test.

There has been talk that their impressive young fast bowler Kemar Roach could be a handful for us in Perth.

He can certainly be quick but we played him well on the helpful Brisbane pitch and I believe we can do the same again during this Test. Likewise, we've got some impressive young quicks of our own who will enjoy any assistance at least as much as the West Indian fast bowlers.

Statistics suggest that off-spinners struggle in Perth but I don't believe they tell the full story.

Left-arm finger spinners Daniel Vettori from New Zealand and South Africa's Paul Harris have had success against us at the WACA Ground in recent seasons.

And many touring sides chose not to play their off-spinners in Perth, with India leaving out Harbhajan Singh just two years ago.

Off-spinners have had success at state level drifting the ball away from the right-handed batsmen in the breeze. I had a chat to Nathan Hauritz after the Adelaide Test and he admitted he didn't bowl as well as he would have liked, but I believe that with the prevailing Fremantle Doctor aiding his drift and a bit of extra bounce, he could bowl well.

One thing we have talked about since we arrived in Perth is our batting.

We have played consistently well, making 8(dec)-480 in Brisbane and 439 during the first innings in Adelaide.

During that time nine players have made 50 or more, and two have made it to the 90s, but no one has scored a century.

This contrasts with the West Indies, who have made three hundreds and yet are 1-0 down in the series. Those sorts of statistics are starting to have an Ashes feel about them.

It's important that players who get starts do press on and get big scores, but by the same token you don't want to make a big deal about it.

The more you talk about it, the harder it can become.

Last summer we talked about losing wickets around the breaks and it kept happening. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

by Ricky Ponting

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