While Boxing Day and the MCG hold a special, traditional meaning in Australia, the SCG holds sway for me.
Scenes such as Steve Waugh’s 2003 century will always be bold memories, however it is the pitch that made Sydney Test matches so special.
My memories of the SCG pitch are one that offered significant assistance to pace bowlers in the first session, before beginning to flatten out in the second session to give the end of Day 1 and most of Days 2 and 3 to the bats.
Then the wicket begins to offer assistance to the spin bowlers late on Day 4 and most of Day 5.
Much has been said in recent times about the ability of ground staff to offer an equal chance to both bat and ball. The recent Ashes tour of England provided both extremes from one Test match to another, without ever providing balance in the same match. Similarly, this year’s Brisbane and Perth Test matches were criticised for being batsmen’s paradises before the pendulum swung toward bowlers in Adelaide.
The pink-ball Test was the best of this summer, and I was happy to see the bowlers get a little bit of revenge after more than a decade of advancements in favour of the batsmen. Think bigger bats, drop-in pitches, ever-shrinking grounds, and T20 creative hitting, and you can only marvel at bowling averages in the low 20s.
On the flipside, we have opposing criticism of the recent South African tour of India, where dustbowls were produced to aid the home side’s spin-bowling strength.
It was not that long ago that Australia was humiliated in India. An inability to play spin or a lack of preparation were blamed for Australia’s woes. That preparation needs to begin years earlier, in grade and shield cricket, with more pitches being prepared to assist spinners.
We need at least three grounds in Australia where shield cricketers can cut their teeth on genuine spinning decks if we are to be serious about being dominant on the subcontinent. Sydney and Adelaide are two pitches Australian cricketers should expect spin.
If we want to be serious about dominating the subcontinent, we have to get serious about spin bowling and batting against it. Don’t want to give India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan any assistance while touring Australia? Fine, have their touring sides primarily play Test matches in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne. English, South African and New Zealand sides can play Adelaide and Sydney.
While it’s a difficult thing to achieve with weather and other variables, I hope that the selectors and Steve Smith walk out the day before the New Year’s Test and see a wicket that is likely to produce solid spin at some stage.
In this case, with Mitch Marsh holding his own as a fast bowler, possible injuries amongst the fast-bowling ranks, and the Frank Worrell Trophy already back in the cabinet, I would be happy to see Australia play two primary fast bowlers and two primary spin bowlers.
In such a case I’d love to see Stephen O’Keefe play his home ground in Sydney.