Door not shut on SCG drop-in but chairman ‘proud’ of traditional wicket

The chairman of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust says the organisation is proud of the natural wicket at the famous ground, however the door has not been completely shut on a drop-in pitch in the future.

The fifth and final Ashes Test will start in Sydney on Thursday amid a call, led by Cricket NSW chairman John Warn, for the SCG to never risk relinquishing its traditional characteristics to appease the AFL.

Warn, who said he was speaking on behalf of players, issued the plea after a drawn fourth Test in Melbourne was marred by a lifeless pitch, making public concerns that Sydney could follow suit and become the latest Test venue to switch to a drop-in pitch.

The SCG and the Gabba will next summer be the only top-shelf Test grounds in not to feature drop-ins and cricket administrators and traditionalists are strongly opposed to the former joining the ranks of the MCG, Adelaide Oval and Perth’s new Optus Stadium.

SCG Trust chairman Tony Shepherd is clear that if such a change is seriously contemplated at any point it will not be done lightly.

“We’re very happy with the natural wicket at the SCG. It is a strong part of our tradition,” Shepherd told Fairfax Media.

“We have no immediate plans to replace it, that’s for sure. Obviously any changes would not be made without consultation with cricket. It is, after all, still the Sydney Cricket Ground and it’s been around for 150 years so you’ve got to be very careful there.”

The Sydney Swans have begun a new 30-year contract to play their home games at the SCG and the AFL has made no secret that it prefers to play at a venue that utilises drop-in pitches rather than on a cricket square.

Shepherd is also the chairman of the Swans’ cross-town rivals, the Greater Western Sydney Giants. But he vehemently denied that the Trust under his stewardship would be more likely to turn to drop-ins than before.

He stated on Monday that, while there was “no doubt” the AFL had conveyed its stance to the Trust, it was his role to support all the sports that operated out of the precinct.

“If you drew that conclusion you would wonder why we’re taking all the agony and the criticism on the [Allianz Stadium] replacement, which is purely for the rectangular codes,” Shepherd said.

“In my role as chairman of the Trust I look at all of the sports there, I support all of them and I do the best I can for all of them.

“[The AFL] make their views known. The AFL is a very good organisation to deal with … very professional. They make their case and that’s it.”

While the Swans play at the ground only every other weekend the planned demolition of Allianz Stadium is expected to result in more content at the SCG, with additional rugby league games shifting to the SCG until a new 45,000-seat rectangular venue is completed.

The importance of cricket, however, would never be overlooked, stressed Shepherd. He said he greatly respected Warn as an administrator.

“[Warn] has already let me know in the firmest of terms what his view is,” he said.

“I love cricket. My childhood was AFL in winter, cricket in summer. I love nothing better than a five-day Test at the SCG.

“We’ve put in a lot of work at the Trust into our natural wicket. We’ve got very experienced curatorial staff … world’s best I’d say. We’re very proud of our wicket.

“I guess people automatically jump to stuff after the problem with with the drop-in in Melbourne. But the MCG has had one since 1996 and it’s the first time we’ve heard complaints about it.”

The current configuration of the SCG stands makes it impossible to transport portable wickets onto the playing surface.

In terms of pitches, the Trust, Shepherd said, had a clear set of objectives for the SCG, which will stage a first-class match for the first time this summer when and England complete the Ashes series.

“We don’t create a wicket that favours batters over bowlers,” Shepherd said.

“We want an even contest between bat and ball, that’s what we want. These are all elite players, both in bowling and in batting, and they should be able to handle all of the quirks and tricks of a natural wicket.”

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