Australian cricket’s pitch power rankings: From the best to the SCG – how each surface stacks up in national turf war
As we reach the end of another Australian summer and with the scourge of pigskin on pristine cricket fields not too far around the corner, it’s time to look back on how the wickets have fared over the course of the season.
Of the seven major venues for Test cricket and the BBL, one thing is for certain, the grand old Sydney Cricket Ground is by far the worst pitch in the country at the moment.
For international matches, BBL clashes and even Sheffield Shield matches, it has been unpredictable and not up to standard way too many times.
There’s been plenty of talk (mostly from interstate politicians) in recent years from other states about taking the New Year’s Test away to another venue because of Sydney’s rain at that time of summer.
But if Cricket Australia was allocating the venues based on the quality of the pitches, Sydney would struggle to get hosting rights in a six-Test summer.
From top to bottom, here’s how the pitches have stacked up in 2023-24.
1. Melbourne Cricket Ground: From being a low, slow wasteland a few years ago, the centre-wicket has been transformed into a surface with the quality that the best pitches have – something for everyone.
Batters can play off the front and back foot knowing the bounce will be true but the bowlers know they can extract movement if they bend their back. There’s even a bit more spin than was previously the case.
The Test wicket for the Boxing Day showdown with Pakistan was slightly in the favour of the bowlers with each of the four innings totals ranging from 237-318 but it produced a thrilling encounter which could have gone either way depending on the Mohammad Rizwan third umpire controversy.
In the BBL it produced plenty of high scores but unfortunately for the home fans, usually by visiting teams.
2 Adelaide Oval: Has been the best wicket in Australia for a fair few years but drops from top spot after a dud Test strip was rolled out for last month’s Windies series opener.
The switch back to a day Test for the first time in six years caused more problems than it should have and the groundstaff conceded they used the wrong grass.
Make the Adelaide Test a pink-ball affair under lights every year – they have struck the right balance with their preparations and length of grass for those conditions.
Mind you, even though it was a bowler-friendly wicket, it was not entirely the groundstaff’s fault that the match only lasted seven sessions with some poor shots, mainly but not exclusively from the West Indies.
3 Manuka Oval: There was nothing wrong with the surface earlier this week when the Windies were rolled for 86 in their ODI thrashing at the hands of Australia. Jake Fraser-McGurk and Josh Inglis proved that when they went out to bat and flayed the opening bowlers all over the wide expanses of the ground.
It’s a shame that Canberra doesn’t get to see more top-level cricket apart from the one ODI and a couple of BBL matches that came to the national capital this summer because it’s a beautiful venue for cricket and the pitch is consistently a belter.
4 The Gabba: On the comeback trail after the previous summer’s disastrous deck for the two-day Test against South Africa.
The pitch for the recent clash against the West Indies was criticised by Mitchell Starc as being too friendly for batting but the curator had to swing the pendulum back that way given that it was a day-night Test against a team that had capitulated inside seven sessions the previous week.
And in the end, the West Indies made the most of batting first and third on the less potent than usual Gabba surface to not only be competitive but cause one of the biggest upset results in recent international cricketing history.
5 Blundstone Arena: It’s pretty much always somewhere in the middle when it comes to Australia’s pitches.
Hobart used to vary from being a road to a seam bowler’s dream but in recent years it has been fine without having a particularly unique characteristic.
There has only been a couple of Shield games at the venue this summer with CA trying to avoid the spring weather in Tassie but the fact that the Tigers were able to chase down a target of 432 in the fourth innings against Queensland suggests that the surface is a decent quality.
Batting was a breeze at Blundstone in the BBL with pretty much every innings topping 150.
6 Optus Stadium: It’s still living in the shadows of the WACA Ground. It’s a shiny, new state-of-the-art stadium but the pitch is not quite as bouncy as its traditional predecessor on the other side of the Swan River.
The pitch that was rolled out for this summer’s Test against Pakistan was better than the damp squib that faced Australia and the West Indies 12 months earlier.
But some of the bounce that the fast bowlers extracted from the surface was dangerously uneven and several batters wore bruises from deliveries which rose up sharply.
7 SCG: They’re trying new methods but it’s still not working. In a bid to go back to the old days of a spinning Sydney track, the groundstaff have been experimenting to spice up the surface.
But the combination of the famous Bulli soil and a new grass called Tahoma 31 has not solved the SCG’s ongoing problems with producing a top-quality track.
The surface for the Test a month ago was OK but there have been constant problems in the Shield and BBL for batters as they have been confronted with inconsistent bounce from the motley pitches.
There was a Shield match in November against Tasmania just before the BBL break where each team made around 200 in the first innings then less than 200 combined in their second digs.
Last Sunday’s track for the ODI against the Windies was terrible with several deliveries nipping back sharply off the seam or keeping low.
The SCG has resisted the temptation to follow the lead of other AFL venues by using drop-in wickets for many years but perhaps the time has come to consider whether that could be the solution.
It is not just a recent problem – Sydney’s wicket has been below par for several years and despite the venue itself never looking better, the centre wicket is unfortunately the worst in the country and it’s not even close.