Domain Tests v India
Shades of old WACA in new Perth pitch
Its predecessor over the Swan River held a reputation like no other ground and Perth Stadium exhibited some of the its famed qualities on its maiden Test day
14 December 2018, 11:01 PM AEST
Given cricket’s obsession with Test match pitches – the 22-yard length of compacted earth that is bound on its surface by a thin weave of grass – the behaviour of said strip at a shiny new international venue was always going to dominate discussions.
The compounding factor that the second Domain Test between Australia and India was being staged in a pristine venue at Perth, home town to one of the last truly unique Test match pitches, meant that fascination had reached near frenzy by the time the first delivery was bowled on Friday.
A ball from India seamer Ishant Sharma that almost was deemed an anti-climax because it did not explode off a length and soar over the wicketkeeper’s head to net four byes.
Truth be known, the Perth Stadium had spent almost as long preparing for its maiden moment as had the batter who faced that historic delivery, Australia’s rookie opener Marcus Harris.
The pitch used in this Test had first seen life in its concrete growing trough six years earlier, having been put together on the verdant expanses within the Gloucester Park trotting venue located directly across the road from Perth’s former cricket home, the WACA Ground.
It was at the WACA where Harris had made his first-class debut in 2011, around the time that the base soil and binding agents were being assembled to ensure that the pre-fabricated pitch rolled out on Day 1 would closely resemble those that gained fame – sometimes infamy – at WA cricket’s historic home.
As a consequence, the deck employed for Perth Stadium’s moment of Test cricket glory was expected to exhibit the qualities that had helped grant the WACA its reputation as a ground like no other on the international cricket circuit.
A pitch that could offer steepling pace and bounce for fast bowlers and then, as its clay-base began to crack and shrink in the face of Perth’s oven-like summer heat, offered assistance for spinners who were known to see the ball roll along the ground.
Both of those occurrences were seen on day one of the new stadium’s first Test.
Although, contrary to expectations, it was India’s seamer Mohammad Shami who landed the most obvious grubber, and their sole spinner Hanuma Vihari who produced the day’s most unexpected bouncer.
Those two eyebrow-raising moments gave cause for voiced concern among some members of the commentariat that batting might become even more difficult than it had been over preceding decades at the WACA, which produced some diabolical pitches in its day.
But the evidence tendered by an Australia bating line-up that has struggled for potency and consistency today – when it battled purposefully to finish 6-277 – is that, while there will be fraught moments throughout the remainder of this match, it will be hardly impossible.
Opener Aaron Finch, who figured in a century first-wicket stand with Harris and scored his maiden Test half-century on Australian soil, claimed that while the pitch bore its challenges, it was well short of the minefield some had been quick to label it.
“I think when we saw the wicket at the start (of today), and when the ball starts seaming off good parts of the wicket - and quite dramatically at times - I think that’s when you know you have to really tighten up,” Finch said of the technical requirements the surface demands.
“You have to also be in a position to cash in on some balls that you can hit, otherwise you get stuck on the crease, you get stuck in two minds and you end up letting them get you out without really doing anything.
“So I think that you still have to be pro-active and take that out of play as much as you can.
“When you look at that wicket at times, you can be a bit daunted by the colour of the grass.
“We saw the second new ball, and even the old ball that went around a little bit.
“It’s just going to be one of those games that’s an absolute grind for both sides.”
Finch noted that the cracks that became evident as Perth sweltered beneath 38C today are expected to prove more of a threat to batters’ mindset than to their defensive games.
While the ball that Shami sent down to Harris early in the second session, which bounced back of a length outside the opener’s off-stump but reared barely shin-high as Harris watched with bemusement, was disconcerting it was also something of a rarity.
Causing greater angst was the late swing that another seamer, Jasprit Bumrah, was able to find with the second new ball late in the day, as well as the ball from Vihari that exploded towards Harris’s throat and cost the opener his wicket.
The 25-year-old part-time spinner, who like Harris is playing only his second Test match, admitted somewhat sheepishly at day’s end that he’s never before captured a wicket with a ‘bouncer’.
Then again, the off-spinner had bowled less than 10 overs at Test level prior to being tossed the ball in today’s afternoon session so he’s enjoyed limited opportunities to reveal such a potent weapon.
Even if his catalogue of Test victims from that limited exposure at the bowling crease includes England’s greatest-ever runs scorer Alastair Cook and his successor as skipper, Joe Root.
Finch acknowledged that it’s been some time since an opening bat has been “bumped out by a 100kph off-spinner”, and the rivals agreed that potentially the greatest threat posed by the pitch over the remaining four days in Perth is latent.
“What the guys found in the Shield game that was played here (earlier this summer) was that the cracks played their part,” Finch said.
“But like in the old days, when you used to see the WACA with those massive cracks, they’re not the ones that get the wickets.
“For us, it’s about putting that out of our mind now.
“Our quicks can hone in on that when that time comes, but for the batters it’s about being as sharp as we can be and playing the ball on its merits.”
After being belted for consecutive boundaries from the first two balls he bowled today, Vihari decided to increase his pace and hit the pitch a bit harder – an alteration in attack that brought Harris undone so unexpectedly.
But when India’s chance to bat arrives some time on Day 2, he says the image of the pitch he helped to create will need to be redacted.
“For us, the important thing is not to think about those aspects too much,” he said.
“We can only expect a certain bounce and we have to play for that.
“The pitch, if it is up and down you can’t do much about it, so if we can keep that out of our mind we will be successful.”
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar