In-Focus

In Focus: Australian Cricket Grounds – Playing Conditions

Being in Australia, getting the right chances to don the national jersey in the midst of the Oz cricket fields is still the best spot to be in for many of the international cricketers.

Australia is the country of too much passion, too much aggression, and too much quality for the game of cricket. Like any other factor, the flying colours we could witness in the Australian stadiums makes it more worth-watching and eye-catching.

Like England, Aussie is one another country acting as an arch defender for the parent format of the game, Test cricket. Not only the Tests, but Australia has been a hub for the other two colourful formats too.

Eventually, the conditions that prevail in the Australian soil generously provide a magical high for the ardent cricket fans.

So, let’s dive down to look into each of those factors that make Australia a special host of cricket.

The typical Australian wickets

The surface of the Australian wickets are naturally hard because of the dryness in the clay and soil of the tracks. Unlike England pitches, Australian tracks possess higher clay content. Almost every pitch used in Oz contains more than 50% of clay. 

As a consequence of higher clay content and lesser soil in the Oz pitches, the cricket ball spends less time in contact with the pitch, derives some extra speed as soon as the ball pitches on the wicket. Most importantly, the ball extracts extra bounce from the track, and that makes Australia a hub of pace and bounce. 

Due to the hot humidity of the surface, the Kookaburra doesn’t swing much unless it is a shiny new ball. 

Yet another factor to be considered in these conditions is the cracks that may present on the Oz wickets due to the excessive exposure to the heat. Batting gets difficult when the ball lands on the cracks and behaves abnormally. 

Fortunately, this case most often bothers only when the Test matches are played over three days, and hence it acts as a factor to be considered Test cricket in the Sunburnt Country.

King-sized outfields

The Australian venues dramatically possess large dimensional outfields. Even the power hitters needed to middle the ball to clear the boundary rope. And also, the larger outfields have even pushed the batters to run four runs for the well-driven shots. In 2008, Andrew Symonds fetched eight runs in a ball in which four runs by running and another four was by the overthrow that went for a boundary.

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This is because of the speed that the Australian turf can provide for the Kookaburra to roll on. The Australian outfields are comparatively slower than the other cricketing grounds. Eventually, this makes the job of the batters even tougher while the bowlers feel a little advantage by getting the batters trapped for the mishit shots.

Addedly, the vast outfields of Oz, are the reason why we could witness boundary fielders in the halfway position, which isn’t a case in any non-Australian cricket grounds. Field placements here are extremely different when compared to other international grounds.

The Kookaburra effect

The Kookaburra balls that are used in Australia are made up of a unique leather called Australian Bovine leather. This is to maximize the durability of the ball.

The nature of Kookaburra favours the dry and hot conditions of Australia. When it comes to the seam, Kookaburra’s seam is comparatively lesser than the other international cricket balls. This pushes to a stage where the bowlers can get a firm grip over the ball when the ball gets 20-25 overs old as the seam tends to settle in. As a result, the fast bowlers can hit the deck harder, and the spinners get effective gripping with their fingers over the seam. From the Test batsmen’s point of view, it gets easy to bat when the ball is 40- 50 overs old, as the seam won’t make such impacts with the pitch. 

This combination of Australian soil and Kookaburra ball makes the Australian matches more impressive and unique.



Non-Identical Venues

Interestingly the Australian venues are filled with varieties. The most famous MCG has its characteristics of providing fair contests between the bat and the ball. More than that, the capacity to fill in above 1 lakh spectators is what fascinates more about this coliseum. 

Whilst the surreal SCG with its traditional outlook is the only Oz venue in the Great Southern land that favours spin bowling because of the presence of Bulli soil underneath its wicket. 

The Gabba and Adelaide oval acts as the batting heaven along with giving extra bounce at times for the spinners. Being in the southern part of Australia, Hobart with its cold sea breeze had been a good wicket to bat on, but the relaid pitch had become unpredictable since 2012. 

The WACA pitch in Perth is a flyer. No batsman would love to face bouncers at this fastest cricket pitch in the world. But unfortunately, CA has decided to stop conducting bigger Test matches in this venue. To provide space for more number of fans to watch a game, the matches in Perth have been shifted to the new Optus stadium where 60,000 people can gather. 

The former Australian skipper, Ricky Ponting about Australian wickets: 

“One of the great things about playing Test cricket in Australia is that you get to sample different conditions in every state – every state has their wicket conditions and characteristics are all different, and that’s the great thing about the world game.”

It is suffice to say that these multifarious home conditions have helped the Aussie players to get adapted to the overseas conditions easily.

Sledging

The Australian players are the best at getting under the skins of the visitors through their sledging. At times it had even crossed beyond the line. There were many famous sledging incidents in the Aussie soil, and the most renowned among them were between Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan, Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. In the recent past, it was between the skippers of both playing sides, Tim Paine and Virat Kohli.

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Sledging is a great way of distracting the opponents, especially in Tests and the Aussie players are experts in it. Only a few visitors have overcome this factor.



Bantering crowds

Cricket has been celebrated throughout Australia. The typical Australian attitude to win every match makes the Australian crowd in their home more savage. Apart from the on-field challenges, the way Aussie crowd banter the visiting players is one of the major factors to overcome for the foreign cricketers.

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The relationship between the Australian crowd and Virat Kohli says it all. Virat Kohli was caught showing his middle finger to the SCG crowd in 2012 when the bantering went beyond the limit. What followed in 2015 were the booings against the Indian skipper when he tried to stop the ball near the boundary. Later in 2019, the Australian crowd were still booing at the Adelaide Oval when the Indian skipper walked out to bat. Even though Virat has achieved numerous records in the Australian soil, the banter continues to follow him. It shows how tough the Australian crowd is.

The drop-in pitches

Since Australia is equally focused on other sports, the venues had to conduct multiple sports events to make use of their turf to the utmost level. This, in turn, has made the introduction of drop-in pitches on the venues like MCG, Adelaide Oval, and Optus Stadium in Perth. This adaptation to the new method has sullied the natural essence of bouncy Australian wickets.

But even in this scenario, the drop-in track used in Adelaide Oval is appreciated for the quality and support it is providing for the bounce and seam. 

Glenn McGrath, the legendary Australian fast bowler about the changes that occurred in Australian pitches: “There is not going to be the fear factor like Aussies pitches had in terms of pace and bounce. The pitches now are not as quick and bouncy, but they are still quicker than India. We used to hear from the Indian camp that they used to worry about the bounce. Now the batsmen don’t tend to play with fear anymore with T20 cricket coming in.”

In summary, Australia is a terrific host of the gentleman game. With so much history and sheer quality players, they have never missed providing high-octane entertainment. 



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