01 May 2013

A guide to the 2013 Ashes series grounds

As opposed to looking at the rich history of the English Cricket Grounds and Stadia that will host the 2013 Ashes series (you can read this anywhere else) I've instead looked at a way to share what you can expect from the pitch and conditions that will set the battleground for the Ashes clashes at each ground.

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Now, not all Test venues stay true to their perceived reputation. Just look at the W.A.CA. The ground has been hailed as paradise for a fast bowler and a dreamy strip for a batsman, assuming you have zero fear come fast bowling. Over the last few seasons it has lost a bit of consistency for that traditional pace offered for the best of the quick's. Surfaces change as some get relaid, get exposed to unusual weather conditions, or even have curators being requested to deliver a track of a specific nature for a certain format of the game.

Having stated this, let's take a look at the five venues hosting the Ashes and their perceived characteristics. I've included a brief bit of history regarding each ground regarding most recent Ashes clashes and of course, for all the strategic nutters, what you can expect come the contest between bat and ball. As an Australian supporter you will be licking your lips in anticipation come our bowling effort, but have inner concerns regarding our batting, especially where application and patience will be vitally important for survival.

Australian 2013 Ashes squad.

1st Test: Trent Bridge, Notthingham (County team: Nottinghampshire)

Briefing: It was encouraging to see both Chris Rogers (Ashes squad member/ Middlesex) and Ed Cowan (Ashes squad member/ Nottinghampshire) showcase form and score some good runs at Trent Bridge in their opening Division One game of the county season.

This is going to be providing a gripping contest between bat and ball, but it is going to be most challenging for our batsmen. An excellent opening venue for the Ashes. It will test all aspects a team and individual requires to survive in a Test match.

We last played a Test in 2005, losing by 3 wickets, but we did take the win in the 2001 Test, which has little relevance at this point in time with it dating back 12 years.

At this relatively low scoring ground, Michael Clarke is the only player in our squad who has been exposed to the challenges presented at Trent Bridge at the elite level. There is validity to look at playing Cowan and Rogers too given their county runs.

The pitch report: As mentioned, Trent Bridge is an ideal arena to kick off the Ashes series in a time where batting dominates the modern game. There is as good a guarantee as any that the ball will swing and should provide for a menacing contest. Trent Bridge has produced more win or lose results than drawn results in recent years, so it is definitely a good place to start a series with an outcome quite likely to occur.

A theory behind the high presence of swing conditions at the ground, which is likely to carry throughout all possible innings in a match, is that the increase in buildings around the ground - notably the Bridgford Road stand - creates an enclosure of sorts, meaning that whatever air enters the arena will circulate and not escape as easily as an open ground, logically. Add a packed crowd attendance and conditions that aren't too chilly, you get an increase in friction resulting from the warmer air, which ultimately leads to a ball that responds greater to swing with greater emphasis needing to be placed on preserving one side of the cherry, while roughing up the other.

Have a read at this article explaining the scientific facts behind swing bowling: Read article on how a cricket ball swings.

Given our batting inconsistencies in recent seasons, England may very well eye an opportunity to have a bowl at us with confidence should they win the toss. Statistically it seems better to bowl first, also assessing your opponents batting line-up (SWOT analysis). The toss will be a massive talking point and it's essential to have that luck go your way.

Even though it is apparent that in any Test match should you get bowled out on the first day you are in trouble, Trent Bridge makes recovery from a poor start in a match hard to come by. This is mostly given the presence of swing bowling, made even harder by good, natural swing bowlers - England have a few of these. Sure, you could try and get one up on the opposition, but if they can handle the conditions slightly better, a deficit of even fifty to one hundred runs could end your hopes.

Expect plenty of deliveries with the new ball to be pitched up on a line that will create some fearful uncertainty. I'd be ready in the slips and gully regions.

2nd Test: Lord's Cricket Ground, London (County team: Middlesex)

Briefing: Best know as 'The home of Cricket'. Ah yes, we were also thumped there in 2009 as England went 1-0 up in the series. A poor first innings chase set us too far behind England's first innings, where Andrew Strauss went onto score 161 after he somehow escaped a plumb LBW decision in the first over of the game, delivered by Ben Hilfenhaus.

Michael Clarke will be the most enthusiastic to get back to the ground for two reasons. The first is that he will simply want to turn that loss into a thing of the past and play for a big victory and secondly, presently being in the form of his life, he played one of the most defining innings of his career in 2009 to get his name onto the centurion board in the visitor's dressing room at Lord's.

It's exciting enough to watch a game of Test cricket at Lord's on the television but being at the ground to watch a live Ashes match must be spectacular.

The pitch report: Brad Haddin had a rough time behind the stumps in 2009. The slope at Lord's makes a wicket-keepers job very challenging and slightly disorientating. Some bowlers have struggled to adjust their line to the unusual terrain.

If the sun shines over Lord's cricket ground, the God's smile down upon the batsmen. It usually results in little swing offerings for the bowlers with these conditions, on a track that has a tendency to offer a relatively even contest between bat and ball. Bowlers haven't appeared too short on pace in the matches I can recall in recent times. Should clouds put a blanket over the venue then the dynamic will change ever so slightly, meaning batsmen will need to show application and focus. These is generally applicable for most grounds in England as even the most mediocre of bowlers can find some swing assistance at times with overcast conditions.

This is a bat first ground traditionally, as is the ground itself - traditional. Even if conditions go in favour of the bowling side from a speculation point of view, Lord's is a ground that should still tempt a skipper to try and combat whatever obstacles may arise, get his batsmen to show some commitment to the task at hand and get the runs on the board.

3rd Test: Old Trafford, Manchester (County team: Lancashire)

Briefing: Historically this ground is famous for when Jim Laker (England) claimed figures of 19/90 against us in 1956. It is also the ground where Shane Warne delivered the 'Ball of the Century' to remove Mike Gatting. The last test was played at the ground in 2010 between England and Bangladesh. Before then it was England and New Zealand in 2008, so not much international Test cricket to go by in recent times.

The last Ashes Test at this venue was in 2005, where our tail managed to wag, ensuring England didn't go up 2-0 in the series, even though we know what the ultimate outcome was. Ricky Ponting scored a valiant 156 and was worryingly dismissed just overs away from stumps. Fortunately Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee had some fight left in them to survive the last four overs of the match.

The pitch report: History in the most recent Test matches shows an opportunity to get a good first innings total is there for the taking, so it's a bat first wicket in my mind. Visiting teams have struggled to "hold the fort" in their second innings, which England have then handled with home turf expertise to secure victory.

The weather up north is never set to guarantee a match without weather interruptions. From what was apparent between England and Bangladesh - I actually watched a bit of this Test - is that spin played quite a role in the game on a track with a bit of a "trampoline reputation" as Graeme Swann (England) and Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh) both cashed in with their bowling duties. Spinners can get nice assistance if they're able to work their lines and effectively use the crease. 

4th Test: Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street (County team: Durham)

Briefing: This ground only had their first Test match in 2003 and we have yet to play a Test at the ground. England have an unbeaten streak at this ground having won four out of four matches, worth taking note of.

The pitch report: This ground can get very cold (temperature wise) for supporters and equally the players, who will be challenged to stay loose, warm and focused. A recent county match between Durham and Yorkshire saw low scoring first innings efforts, followed by a relatively high scoring finish as Yorkshire managed to chase down a target of 336 runs.

I have done some research and while I cannot write about this ground from what I have seen on the television come Test cricket, it does seem to be a track that is difficult to bat on at first, but the longer you bat and the further into the Test match the contest goes, the easier it is to negotiate what comes off the pitch.

Seems to be a track where the toss isn't something to have nightmares about. Main thing is that it seems to be easier to get back into the match if plans don't quite go according to how they were intended from the get-go.

Most interested to hear some analysis from any other viewers regarding this ground.

5th Test: The Oval, London (County team: Sussex)

: The Oval was where The Don played his final Test innings and the ground which historically hosted the first ever Test match in England in 1880. Unfortunately for us, it is also where we officially lost the Ashes in 2009 after Michael Hussey was dismissed for 121 runs in an effort to prevent us from going down, as a drawn result would have ensured we retained the urn.

Traditionally this ground is the curtain closer for the English Ashes tour.

The pitch report: The Oval provides one of the better batting tracks and has a tendency to be a drier surface than most found throughout England. The advantage for bowlers is that this does allow for the ball to get one side roughened up a bit quicker and should cloud cover occur, there is a serious opportunity for reverse swing with the ball also nipping around a bit more. 

Having said this, bowlers may have to work a bit harder on this track, but with the track being a bit drier there is some carry and encouragement for the fast bowlers in the early stages of a match. Later in the match is definitely pays to have a specialist spinner in a sides ranks with a possibility of the pitch opening up a few cracks and imperfections. Our selectors made a fatal mistake in 2009 by leaving out Nathan Hauritz. Let the new selectors take note of that blunder and ensure Nathan Lyon is played at the Oval this time around.

Long story short, bat first and bat well!

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