Jeremy Henderson, in the second of two articles about the WACA as it stages its final Test, crunches the numbers to show that it has rarely been a happy hunting ground for the Ashes tourists.
The new Perth Stadium: needs a few more ingredients
Almost exactly 47 years ago, Geoffrey Boycott, partnered by Brian Luckhurst, faced the first ball of the first Test match ever played in Perth. He went on to make 70 in an opening partnership of 171. Luckhurst made 131, and England managed a total of 397. While the match ended in a fairly tame draw, it was just about the zenith of England’s performances at the WACA. With one minor aberration in 1978, when England beat the players that Kerry Packer didn’t want, it has been pretty much all downhill since then.
Then… and now
It’s not very pretty reading for England: Played 13, Won 1, Lost 9 (including the last seven), Drawn 3. It’s hard to imagine that they will mourn the move to the new Perth Stadium (already christened by Daniel Brettig. the Cricinfo writer, as “The Chocolate Doughnut”), and the prospect of a new start in 2021.
But, for one last time, they face the challenge of overcoming some pretty daunting history. In 26 innings, they have only twice exceeded that very first effort (Australia has done it 7 times), but they fallen for less than 200 seven times (twice for Australia). There have been ten English centuries, and 16 Australian, six English five-wicket hauls, and 13 Australian, and so on…
On the other hand….
It is worth considering a few other things, though. Those figures encompass the “golden age” of Australian cricket, where they were virtually unstoppable. And Australia have not won at the WACA since the last Ashes match there four years ago, having since drawn with New Zealand (on a road), and lost to South Africa last year, so they are not invincible in Perth. And, let’s be honest, these are two mediocre sides, with a few outstanding performers, and either one is totally capable of collapsing in a heap. Sure, the England team does not seem to have its headspace anything like right, but if Joe Root and Alastair Cook come good – and God knows they are due – previous form could be turned on its head. And you should bear in mind that England have never lost at the Waca when they have reached 300 in their first innings.
It’s fast, too!
Anyone who recalls Adam Gilchrist’s monstering of Monty Panesar 11 years ago will know that things can happen pretty quickly at the WACA. It’s not a small ground (about the same dimensions as the Oval), but it is a fast one. Four of the fastest ten Test centuries in history have come at the WACA, despite only two per cent of all Tests having been played there (no other ground features more than once). With a lightning-fast outfield and a hard wicket bringing the ball on to the bat, once a batsman has established himself, free scoring can quickly follow. Interestingly, no double centuries have been scored in Ashes games, with Ian Redpath (171) and Chris Broad (162) having the highest scores.
The Waca pitch: mad, bad and dangerous to know
Pace and Bounce?
There is no doubt that the WACA has a reputation for having had the fastest wicket in the world. And certainly, at times, it has had. Dennis Lillee’s eigh for 29 and Andy Roberts’ seven for 54 are testament to that. But there have been times, as recently as 2015 against New Zealand, where it has been nothing but a road. So far this year it has certainly had some pace and bounce, but not enough to disturb a competent batsman, as the Sheffield Shield scores attest to. Unfortunately, each of these teams seem to have batsmen with sufficient incompetence to nullify my original prediction of a draw. Oh, and expect cracks – cracks that would make a plumber proud! Whatever they do, they just don’t seem able to eliminate them! At least that’s something that will be fixed with the drop-in pitches at the new stadium!
And then there’s the toss!
After all the discussion of Root’s decision to field in Adelaide (did it really make any difference?), we come to a ground where, uniquely among Test grounds, it is almost as common for the toss winner to field as to bat. Indeed, in matches between England and Australia, the decision has been to field seven times and to bat six times. The toss winner has won 50 per cent of the time, so it’s arguable that it makes little difference!
The WACA is not a ground of tight finishes. More often than not, one side will completely dominate the other. The form of the Australian attack, and the seemingly addled state of mind of the Englishmen, leads me to the inevitable conclusion that Australia will win comfortably, probably within four days.
A postscript on preparation
In 1970, the Perth Test was the second of the series, and started exactly six weeks after the MCC’s first game against South Australia. In that time the tourists had played one Test and five four-day games against every mainland State, playing at full strength. By the time he started his innings in Perth, Geoff Boycott had had 11 first-class innings, with three centuries, and scored 723 runs at an average of 80.
This winter, it is the third of the series, and starts only two days short of six weeks after the first game against a makeshift WA XI at the WACA. In that time, only four first-class games (including the two Tests) have been played, in which Cook has had just seven innings, and scored 179 runs at 25.6.
There is plenty of talk of the inability of teams to perform away from home. Until schedules enable greater preparation, and host countries are prepared to actually make a commitment to providing real competition during the lead-up to the Tests, that can only get worse.