Australia vs India 2018-19, Test series: Will it be fast and furious at the new Perth?
Before we get to what lies in store at the new Perth stadium, a little note on the itinerary is needed. Cricket Australia would be wise to accept that not opening a high-profile series in Brisbane, at the Woolloongabba was a mistake. It is a venue where they have had unprecedented success and not playing the first Test there is a tactical folly. Especially so for a currently depleted and anaemic Australian side. The home advantage that the Gabba offers is massive. It was not far behind the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) pitch in terms of pace of bounce; plus it seamed around to create more trouble for batsmen. Often they were like lambs at the abattoir, at the Gabbattoir. This is precisely why Sourav Ganguly’s maverick 144 in the 2003-04 series set the tone for an evenly fought series. India is known to be slow starters and being ahead in any Test series after the opening game is a blessing, while of course being confidence inducing. It is a booster shot that get rids of the inertia and jitters in a testing battle of skills and perseverance.
From Australia’s point of view, losing the zingy cauldron of WACA is another jolt. Even though India won in Perth in 2007-08 in an epic game, touring sides have always struggled to cope with the bounce and many have found their techniques fall short to negotiate it. But a new venue in Perth has come up – Optus Stadium. This 60,000-seat Burswood venue will get red-ball cricket action after hosting the first ODI between South Africa and Australia earlier in the summer.
But what on earth do we expect at Perth? For starters, India begin as firm favourites after an impressive showing in Adelaide. The pitch is the topic of conversation and from the aforementioned ODI, hints are ominous. The Proteas had given the Aussies some serious chin music, comfortably bundling them over for 152. It will be interesting to see how the clay behaves and the grass responds in the debut Test at the new Perth Stadium. The series hinges on it. The drop-in pitch according to curator Brett Sipthorpe may not go the distance, predicting the team winning the toss will send the opposition in on a green and nippy deck.
Brett Sipthorpe, the curator at Optus Stadium, is expecting the fast bowlers to gain significant seam, swing and bounce when the venue hosts the second Test between Australia and India beginning on Friday. He is aiming to produce a fast pitch that would recall the WACA Ground’s heyday and genuinely test the batsmen.
“For us there’s no Gabba in this Test series. So the only other ground that’s got the potential to be that fiery, bouncy pitch is our one. We'll just try and make it quick, try and make it bouncy."
If Sipthorpe delivers on his intentions, then it is only a spatial shift in venue with all the characteristics of WACA being smoothly inherited by Optus Stadium. Both stadia are separated by just 3 kms across the Swan River, so at least the famed Fremantle Doctor - the cooling afternoon sea breeze is going nowhere. But because this stadium is boxed in, it won't be as prominent as the WACA, while locking in more moisture conducive for swing.
Aussie captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine also expects a fiery pitch, hoping to get a few dies loaded in his side’s favour. The pace bowling units of either side are closely matched but neither of Paine's pace bowlers - Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins or Josh Hazelwood have hit peak performance. A green and quick Perth pitch could also be counter-productive as India does have the capability to out-bowl the Kangaroos. India have the quality, yet are susceptible. The first Test in Adelaide was not the baptism by fire that touring sides expect and fear Down Under. A false sense of comfort can also be a factor. Despite their obvious shortcomings in batting, Australia were not that bad overall and fell short of just 15 runs in each innings to what India scored.
So, what on Earth should we expect at Perth? A throwback to the WACA Ground’s vintage days - and maybe, just maybe a devilishly challenging 22 yards that puts the bowlers dictating the terms and the batsmen at all sixes and sevens. It's a great chance to make a first impression for the venue to the cricketing world!