A groundsman works on the MCG pitch during the Boxing Day Test.
A groundsman works on the MCG pitch during the Boxing Day Test. Julian Smith

Cricket's drop-in pitch debate reaches boiling point

CRICKET: Melbourne's gruelling 'Bore War' may have put a nation of avid sports fans to sleep, but it could yet prove a great thing for Australian cricket.

For years the game's drop-in pitch debate has been bubbling on to the point that it had became like the pitches themselves; bland and spiritless.

Drop-in pitches were never good enough to get excited about, but rarely bad enough to get angry over, until Melbourne delivered a billiard table without the legs for the Boxing Day Test.

The triumph of this pitch is that it has given the debate a razor-sharp focus and several venues, like the Sydney Cricket Ground, an absolutely clear vision of the sort of wickets they don't want.

Brisbane has said "no” to drop-ins for years, and officials still tell stories of former captains like Ricky Ponting telling them: "If the push for drop-ins in Brisbane gets big, just ring me and I will tell people what I think of them”.

Presumably, not much.

Adelaide has a drop-in and there are already fears that the drop-in at the new Perth stadium will be of modest standard.

But this story is bigger than any individual ground or wicket, for its tentacles stretch far away from home.

Australian captain Steve Smith inspects the pitch during an Australian team training session at the WACA ahead of the 3rd Ashes Test match in Perth, Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY, IMAGES TO BE USED FOR NEWS REPORTING PURPOSES ONLY, NO COMMERCIAL USE WHATSOEVER, NO USE IN BOOKS WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM AAP
Australian captain Steve Smith inspects the WACA wicket ahead of the third Ashes Test. DEAN LEWINS

One of the reasons Australia has won just one of its last five offshore series is that it rarely gets to play under the type of conditions it gets abroad.

Take England, for example, where Australia has lost its last four Ashes series.

When was the last time you saw a Test in Australia where the ball seamed like it does at several Test venues in England?

When was the last time you saw a wicket in Australia that spun even a fraction of what it does on some of the cracked parched surfaces in India?

Why is it such a crime in Australia to produce a wicket which has some grass on it or moisture left in it?

Or one which cracks up like broken mirror on the last few days?

The trouble these days is that Perth plays like Adelaide which plays like Sydney because the individual flavour which used to be such a notable trademark of Australian decks has long gone with the increased presence of these vanilla-flavoured drop-in decks.

Most of Australia's curators are good mates who swap ideas and text messages which ensure many wickets are prepared the same and end up playing the same.

A general view of the Sydney Cricket Ground, in Sydney, Friday, October 13, 2017. Turf resurfacing of the entire field area is underway ahead of the summer of cricket and the Ashes series. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING
The SCG was resurfaced late last year. DAN HIMBRECHTS

That's great if you are a curator, but not so great if you are a cricket fan looking for a dash of chilli in your curry.

People have been talking about this week's SCG Test deck as being pleasantly green.

We don't want a pleasantly green deck in Sydney for the match that gets underway Thursday.

We want an old-fashioned spinners' deck where the slow men own the game like they did for decades.

But most of all we don't want an MCG billiard table. One of them a summer in one too many.