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AUSTRALIA V PAKISTAN TESTS

Curators pitch in to turn tide for bowlers

11 December 2016

Warner is flat out on his back after playing a shot at the WACA this summer // Getty

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After two summers of domination by batsmen, Australia's first-class venues have provided some succour for bowlers in the current season

About the Writer:
 @martinsmith9994

Martin Smith is a writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for Yahoo!7 Sport and Fox Sports.

Having given up 34 individual Test centuries to run-hungry batsmen in the past two seasons, Australia's international venues have showed signs of addressing the imbalance this summer following encouragement from Cricket Australia for curators to rediscover the individual characteristics of each ground.

International batsmen have dined out on lifeless surfaces around the country in recent years; the 2015 Perth Test, where 1672 runs were scored at a cost of almost 60 per wicket – a WACA record – was a high-water mark for both the home and visiting willow-wielders.

But that record-breaking Test in the west, which even helped to hasten Mitchell Johnson's retirement from the game, is far from an outlier as a bowler's graveyard in recent years.

In total, the first two Tests against New Zealand last summer yielded nine individual centuries and two double hundreds, before the bowlers got their revenge on a green Adelaide surface in the inaugural day-night Test.

The series against the West Indies that followed produced six centuries and one double hundred in the first two Tests, while David Warner added another three-figure score in a rain-affected third match.

Warner scorches fastest SCG ton

And in the Border-Gavaskar series against India the previous summer, 15 individual centuries were scored in just four matches, two of which ended in tame draws.

Ignoring last summer's Adelaide Test, a bowling oasis in an otherwise barren desert of batting roads, and the SCG's washed out Windies Test, the average runs per wicket across the 2013-14 and '15-16 summers was 46.68, and averaged more than four centuries per match.

In contrast, the three-match series against South Africa last month resulted in just six three-figure scores – an average of two per match – and the average runs per wicket was less than 30.

Even allowing for Australia's batting collapses in Perth and Hobart, the reduction in the run glut has been significant. Finally, the bowlers are getting their own back.

We've witnessed the speedy reverse swing and bounce of Kagiso Rabada in Perth, the nip and seam of Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott in Hobart, and the unerring accuracy of Josh Hazlewood in an Adelaide day-night Test that provided a more even contest between bat and ball.

Even in a series where spin had a minimal impact, Nathan Lyon's spell on the third night in Adelaide – where he claimed two wickets and turned the ball past the bat of Quinton de Kock on three consecutive occasions to end the day-three action – proved that there was something there for everyone.

Lyon's sensational final over on day three

Even for the batsmen, if they applied themselves like Usman Khawaja did in Adelaide, or took on the bowlers like de Kock did in Hobart.

The tipping of the scales back towards the bowlers comes after a pre-season urging from Cricket Australia for curators to rediscover each venue's unique characteristic, with a view of both producing more entertaining international matches and more well-rounded cricketers at domestic level.

"I think (the pitches this summer) have been exceptional in terms of the curators delivering what they wanted to deliver, specifically the unique characteristics of their venues," CA's Head of Cricket Operations Sean Cary told cricket.com.au.

"We had a big discussion in our annual seminar pre-season, and we wanted the curators to really focus on the unique characteristics of their venues so Australian cricket doesn't have the same sort of pitch across the whole country.

"Because it doesn't allow our players to adapt in first-class cricket and in international cricket when they go to different environments and different conditions.

"You don't want to see flat roads because it doesn't encourage anyone. It certainly makes the batsman's life a lot easier and it makes the bowler's life really difficult.

"And fans don't want to see uneven contests, which is why we've encouraged the curators to think about an even contest between bat and ball."

Extended Test wrap: 'New' Aussies shine

The progress made this summer hasn't been lost on the Australian team either, with coach Darren Lehmann labelling Adelaide Oval curator Damien Hough "the best in the world" after an enthralling day-night Test against the Proteas.

Hough and MCG curator David Sandurski have the challenge of working with drop-in pitches, while the WACA's Matthew Page has already developed the drop-in pitches to be used at the new multi-purpose Perth Stadium.  

In addition, five of the six major Australian venues host Australian Rules football matches during the winter months (Perth Stadium will also host games), while the advent of day-night cricket at both Test and Shield level has added another element to this unpredictable art.

Working on the "ultimate" goal of producing 10 wickets and 300 runs per day of first-class cricket, Cary has also been pleased with how the first half of the Sheffield Shield season has played out.

And he's been especially thrilled by indications that the SCG is returning to its former glory as a spin-bowling haven, with 28 of 37 wickets in a Shield game there a month ago falling to the turning ball.

"It's not been exact ... but it's not been far off," Cary says of the daily target of 10 wickets and 300 runs in Shield cricket.

"And you can actually see the curators are working towards that.

"We want the WACA to get back as close as it can to being the fastest, bounciest pitch in the country.

"We want Adelaide to develop its own characteristics now that it's got drop-ins, and I think Houghy has done an exceptional job ... to work out what's best for Test cricket at that venue, whether it's a day Test or a day-night Test

"And there's definitely been obvious signs of spin coming back to the SCG wickets. We haven't necessarily had over recent years, so that's fantastic to see."

Even Contest: Runs per wicket analysis


2014-15 v India


Adelaide: 48.93 runs per wicket, six centuries
Brisbane: 35.19 runs per wicket, two centuries
Melbourne: 42.48 runs per wicket, three centuries
Sydney: 51.66 runs per wicket, four centuries


2015-16 v NZ


Brisbane: 51.14 runs per wicket, five centuries
Perth: 59.71 runs per wicket, six centuries
Adelaide: 22.18 runs per wicket, zero centuries


2015-16 v West Indies

Hobart: 39.75 runs per wicket, three centuries
Melbourne: 49.34 runs per wicket, four centuries
Sydney: 42.16 runs per wicket, one century


2016-17 v South Africa

Perth: 36.50 runs per wicket, two centuries
Hobart: 19.06 runs per wicket, one century
Adelaide: 31.84 runs per wicket, three centuries

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Meg Lanning Steve Smith

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