A BATTING WITH BIMAL BREAKING REPORT: Are pitches used during Sheffield Shield matches too pace-friendly?

The Bellerive Oval is seen as a wasteland for spinners and a paradise for pace bowlers

Brisbane curator Kevin Mitchell has defended the pitches used during Sheffield Shield matches amidst growing criticism about most of them being too pace-friendly, stating that maintaining the conditions is a lot harder than people actually think.

Just last week, veteran Australia batsman Michael Hussey noted that domestic pitches were not helping to prepare players for Test cricket and his views have been reiterated by South Australia coach Darren Berry and Victoria coach Greg Shipperd.

Since the 2008-2009 Sheffield Shield season, no batsman has been able to score 1000 runs and the last spinner to take 30 wickets was Bryce McGain back in the 2007-2008 season.

The Bellerive Oval in Hobart is one pitch that has received an increasing amount of criticism after a match between Tasmania and South Australia finished in two and a half days.

“I think there’s a lot of assumptions about that from people who aren’t actually at the game, I think they probably should read some of the match referees’ reports and captains’ reports and then make their mind up after that. I think a lot of it’s a bit unfair. Hobart is a hard gig. If you don’t give something there for the first two innings, you struggle to get a result down there. It can be a flat wicket otherwise. It’s a hard balancing act down there for sure,” Mitchell said.

Australia coach Mickey Arthur noted that the pitch conditions at the Bellerive Oval were disappointing since there was so much in it for pace bowlers and barely nothing for spinners like Nathan Lyon to work with.

Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting agreed with Hussey on the fact that the pitches were not training players for Test cricket, but also empathised with the hard jobs the curators had.

“We have to remember though that we started a month earlier than the season normally starts in Australia, you can probably understand that some of the wickets might be slightly underdone and underprepared. The wicket that we played on in Hobart last week that I can speak about, the whole surface of it had been relaid, the whole wicket block, and it was the first longer form game that had been played on the resurfaced wicket block. That one was hard work for the top order down there. We had to chase 220 in the last innings of the game, which was only halfway through day three, and we couldn’t get them. It was hard work for the batters. The same thing happened at Allan Border Field. That game only just went into the third day as well. If you’re asking me as a batsman only, it probably wasn’t perfect preparation going into a Test match here, but thankfully for me I’d had three other Shield games to spend plenty of time in the middle and feel good about my game before that,” Ponting said.

“Someone like Pup [Michael Clarke], who’s been dying to get some time in the middle and gets a wicket like he got last week is not ideal. There is a balance there somewhere. I think probably on a whole [in] the last couple of years the balance has probably been slightly in the bowlers’ favour. But getting wickets absolutely perfect every time is not easy either,” Ponting added.

Even though the Sheffield Shield began in September this year, Berry noted that “result” pitches have been a major issue over the past couple of years.

Berry also highlighted the fact that all 16 matches played at the Bellrive Oval, the WACA in Perth and The Gabba in Brisbane had produced results extremely quickly.

“States are looking to get results, it is no coincidence that Queensland and Tasmania played in the Shield final [last season] and look how many games on their pitches finished in an outright – all of them,” Berry said.

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