During the early nineties, England’s bowling attack was so innocuous that we could only win on green Headingley wickets. Having seen the likes of Neil Foster, Alan Igglesden and Neil Mallender flayed to all corners of Lords and Edgbaston etc, Ted Dexter would make his annual phone call to Yorkshire to beg the Leeds groundsman to water the pitch, leave plenty of grass on it, and perhaps add some artificial green colouring too – who knows – anything to get into the opposition’s heads. It was an act of desperation.
Preparing a green seamer was the only way we could take twenty wickets in those days. If we played the West Indies, Pakistan or India on anything else, the likes of Richie Richardson, Javed Miandad, and Mohammad Azhuruddin would look at Paul Jarvis stretching at the top of his run-up and laugh. They’d then proceed to score double hundreds in just under a session – depending on how effectively Nick Cook kept the run rate down.
The logic was simple: if England prepared flat pitches, the opposition would fill their boots. Meanwhile, the English batsmen would get out cheaply whatever the surface, mainly because they were crap. Anyone remember Kim Barnett?
England’s only hope in those days was to prepare a seamers’ paradise – the kind of surface that turned Ed Giddins into Malcolm Marshall. If the game became a low scoring shoot out, an inspired ton from Graham Gooch might be enough to see England home.
Green pitches are prepared for two reasons: A) because the home team realises they’re inferior and want conditions that even things out – a bit like John Fashanu’s Wimbledon hoping for rain, wind and mud before a game against Manchester United, and B) if the opposition don’t have a spinner to speak of. Both these statements applied to England in the early 1990s, and they’re probably true of Australia now.
The Aussies want a green pitch at the MCG because they’re psychologically scarred after the first two tests. They realise they can’t take twenty wickets on flat pitches, and they’re scared of Graeme Swann. It’s quite pathetic really – and simply demonstrates how much their team has declined since the retirement of Warne and McGrath.
Is it really that much of an exaggeration to say that this Australian side is like the English teams of the dark ages? I think not. Their batting is flawed and reliant on one or two individuals – for Graham Gooch read Mike Hussey – and Xavier Doherty was probably worse than Eddie Hemmings and Min Patel combined.
What’s more, I reckon Australia’s plan to prepare a green top at Melbourne will fail – mainly because their logic is flawed. Conditions in Perth are unique. Most test teams struggle at the WACA. It’s a surface like no other. Whatever the curator at the MCG prepares, it will not play like the wicket in the third test.
Finally – and this seems to have escaped the Aussie selectors and media alike – why do they think a green pitch will necessarily suit the home team? England are used to seaming pitches. Every cricketer in England plays half the season on green wickets because our season starts in early April and ends in late September. When do the Australian players get to play in such conditions? Hardly ever.
If the fourth test is played on a seamer-friendly surface, the England boys will feel right at home. And who is probably the best bowler in the world at exploiting such pitches? Jimmy Anderson, that’s who. If England win on an MCG pitch that resembles the Riverside in May, the Aussies will look stupider than Mitchell Johnson’s tattoos. They’ll probably bowl too short.