Gabba mystery awaits Proteas
THE last time SA played a test in Brisbane, in 1963, pitch preparation wasn’t the science it has since become.
“Jack Farquhar cut the grass on the wicket with a scythe and he had a horse-drawn roller, so we’re doing well,” Kevin Mitchell junior, one of Farquhar’s successors as the Gabba’s groundsman, said Wednesday.
Scattered around Mitchell on the outfield was an array of high-tech equipment that would help him deliver another edition of what is either the fastest or the best pitch in test cricket — depending on who is asked.
That the 22 yards of turf Mitchell has been manicuring since 1991, when he took over the job from his father, is one of the most storied stretches of real estate in all of sport is undisputed.
Four totals higher than 600 have been recorded here, along with seven of less than 100.
In the inaugural test at the ground, against SA in 1931, Don Bradman scored 226 and the match went on for seven days after two of the scheduled days were washed out.
It was here that Australia and West Indies played the famous tied test of 1960, and where Australia haven’t lost since 1988 — also against the Windies.
But, for the modern players, what matters most is that the Gabba has a reputation as a place where batsmen come to die and bowlers come to fly.
Not quite, according to Australian coach Mickey Arthur.
“This ground offers bounce, and bounce is a bowler’s best friend,” Arthur said. “You’ve still got to land it in the right area, and you’ve got to build enough pressure. But bounce gives you an opportunity.
“But once you’ve got through those first 20 balls it’s a beautiful place to bat as well.”
Mike Hussey wasn’t quite so forthcoming about what lay in wait for the South Africans.
“I don’t want to let out any secrets; I’d like them to find out for themselves,” he said. “They’re a class team and I’m sure they will adapt very quickly, but there are things that are different and unique about the Gabba. That’s a small advantage for us.”
Ricky Ponting couldn’t help but turn the screw in his ultra-competitive fashion.
“It’s always good to turn up at a venue where the team has had a great deal of success,” he said. “It adds a bit more positive vibe in our dressingroom, and it adds negative vibe in their dressingroom.
“It’s not as if the conditions are that foreign. It’s just the first test match of the summer in Australia and it takes that little bit of time to get used to what you’ve got here.
“We know the conditions well and we’ll play the conditions well. It will be interesting to see how SA adapt.”
Despite the ground’s reputation, a lack of rain in the build-up to the match could mean the pitch will flatten by the end of the second day and take turn on the last two days.