Vodafone Men's Ashes
Brighter outlook for Gabba pitch after 'tricky' preparation
England captain Joe Root says uncertainty around how the Gabba pitch will play after weeks of heavy rain has delayed his decision to settle on a starting XI for the first Test
6 December 2021, 07:57 PM AEST
Gabba head curator David Sandurski admits he's been struggling to sleep and has placed so many phone calls to Brisbane's meteorology bureau in recent days they might justifiably consider some sort of intervention order.
But the man in charge of preparing the playing surface for Wednesday's Vodafone Ashes Series opener is confident a weekend burst of the Sunshine State's eponymous feature will ensure the Test pitch doesn't replicate the one rolled out for last month's seamer-dominated Marsh Sheffield Shield game.
And despite it sporting a generous mat of green grass today, neither England captain Joe Root nor Australia coach Justin Langer have thus far subjected Sandurski to scrutiny in the knowledge that fretting over pitches two days out from a match starting wastes valuable mental energy.
Root planned to cast an eye over the pitch during the course of England's training session at the Gabba this afternoon, and cited uncertainty as to how it might play as a reason why he had yet to settle on a starting XI.
"We'll see how it looks tomorrow and on the morning of the game," Root said today when asked whether he might consider batting or bowling should the coin land in his favour on Wednesday morning.
"I've not got any clear idea on what we want to do as yet, we'll try to leave that as late as possible."
Sandurski, who concedes Brisbane's big wet of recent weeks has made pitch preparation "really tricky", offered a similar rationale as to why he was yet to discuss the likely character of his Gabba Test pitch with Langer.
"It's probably a bit too early to come and have a chat," Sandurski said today.
"It's probably better on the afternoon before the game, or the morning of the game when you get a good idea of where the wicket's really at.
"Even two days out, the wicket can change a lot ... so probably closer to the game he'll come and have a chat to me."
The proximity to game day did not deter a number of Australia players from examining the pitch during their training run this morning, with interest doubtless piqued by weather patterns that dumped almost three times Brisbane's November rainfall average (a total of almost 260mm) last month and more than 100mm in the past week.
While the Gabba is renowned for the speed and efficiency of its drainage, Sandurski said it's been the absence of regular sunshine and drying winds that have hampered the usual pitch-hardening process and played havoc with his sleep.
However, last weekend's welcome spell of drier, sunnier weather has him reassured the Test track won't be a copy of the deck on which Queensland were skittled for 129 in 53.1 overs on day one of their recent Shield match against Western Australia.
"That one was an overcast preparation and match as well," he said of the pitch on which WA's Test squad member Jhye Richardson claimed 8-61 in his team's seven-wicket win.
"The six days leading into that was a rain period, and the first three days of that game were also overcast.
"In an ideal world you'd have fine weather so you can do what you want to the wicket when you want to do it (but) without that wind and sun, you can't get a rock-hard wicket.
"I expect (the Test pitch) to be a tad firmer and probably have a tad less in it than that (Shield) one, but pretty similar.
"The new ball is always the key, that first 20 overs – if you're none or one-for instead of three or four down, it has a big bearing on how you'll go throughout the match."
Brisbane's forecast shows the potential for light showers on match eve, and the possibility of storms and some heavy cloud on at least the first two days of the Test.
Root said prior to England's penultimate pre-Ashes training session today that the mystery surrounding his team's line-up had nothing to do with gamesmanship after his rival skipper Pat Cummins went public with Australia's starting XI yesterday.
"I'm not into mind games, I'm just not in a position right now to name our team," Root said.
"They (Australia) have gone out there and named their eleven, it doesn't really concern me or change anything from our perspective.
"We'll go about it how we want to, and we'll let you know when we're ready.
"We're close to it, but I don't feel comfortable revealing anything at this stage."
The England captain did acknowledge Australia's decision to finalise their line-up days before the coin toss meant his players could begin planning for the match-ups they will face during the series opener.
The fact the home team also boasts four left-handed batters in their top seven – openers David Warner and Marcus Harris, Travis Head and debutant Alex Carey – might also help inform England's bowling attack.
While left-arm orthodox Jack Leach is tipped to play if England opt for a specialist spinner, they could be tempted to include off-spinner Dom Bess who – in concert with fellow offie, Root – might prove more effective turning the ball away from Australia's left-handers.
One bowler Australia can be certain of facing is allrounder Ben Stokes, who will be playing his first Test match since last March but who averages a wicket every nine overs or thereabouts in Ashes cricket.
Root envisaged it will be tougher to rein in the expectation heaped upon his match-winning allrounder now he's back in the fold than to manage Stokes's bowling workload after his lengthy absence from the first-class arena.
"We always know that when he gets into the game here, he'll put his mark on it," Root said of the mercurial allrounder.
"I think there will be an element of managing expectations.
"But with his experience, and our whole bowling group collectively, we can look together to take all those (Australia) wickets and I'm sure Ben will have a big say in that.
"Obviously the conditions (at the Gabba) are slightly different to what we get at home with the extra bounce, but we've prepared as best we can for that, and we'll use the next couple of days to make sure we're ready.
"As well as the emotions that surround the first morning of a Test match, and the first Test match here in Australia but if we manage that well, we should give a really good account of ourselves and start well in this series."
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, TBC