Sydney should never follow the path of Melbourne and have a drop-in wicket introduced, says Cricket NSW chairman John Warn, who has gone on the front foot on behalf of players and fans days before the fifth and final Ashes Test.
With a review being launched into the flat MCG pitch that stymied the chances of a result in the fourth Test there is renewed focus on the SCG square in the lead-up to Thursday’s first day.
The famous ground, which staged its first Test in 1882, hasn’t hosted a first-class game this season and has a new curator in charge but it is the future beyond the final leg of the series against England that worries administrators.
The debut of Perth’s new Optus Stadium next summer will leave the SCG and Brisbane’s Gabba as the only top-line Test venues in with traditional wickets. And the example of what went wrong at the MCG has only further highlighted for officials the importance of pushing back against an AFL-driven desire for drop-in pitches at venues that the codes share.
“I’m here to represent our players. We’re here to produce n players and that job is made harder if they’re playing on pitches like you saw in Melbourne,” Warn said on Sunday.
“We would never want to see that in Sydney. It’s not good for Test cricket. I’ve made it very clear to the [SCG] Trust and to the government that we do not want to ever see a drop-in pitch at the SCG.”
With drop-ins at the MCG, Adelaide Oval and at Perth’s soon-to-be-opened stadium Warn says leading players – Test captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and four other members of the n team are all from NSW – do not want any more.
Retaining the natural characteristics of the SCG pitch is vital, he claims, not only to players, but to supporters and members.
“We want it to be a pitch that has its own character, which historically has been spin,” Warn said.
“We’ve seen one or two spinners in every n team and touring team and we want to see that continue. We think it would be a sad blight on NSW and n cricket if the SCG, the Trust and the government, contemplated moving down this path in the future.
“You can sort of feel the dark clouds looming a little bit. Three of the regular five Test venues by next summer are going to have drop-ins, so the SCG, the Trust and the government … they’re going to be considering and looking at it themselves at some point in the next few years, for sure.”
The Trust maintains there are no plans for a drop-in at the SCG and that the design of the ground’s newest grandstands stood in the way of such a pitch overhaul.
There is a curve in the basement tunnel beneath the Noble, Bradman and Messenger Stands, which were redeveloped and opened four years ago, and as a result, as it stands, there is not enough room to transport the portable pitches onto the playing surface by truck.
“The SCG trust has not started growing a drop-in wicket and has nowhere to grow one even if we had,” a Trust spokesman said. “Also, it is currently impossible to get a drop-in pitch onto the field of play.”
Former SCG Trust chairman Rodney Cavalier, who is no longer a trustee, argues that the members would never accept drop-in pitches.
“I am supremely confident that the members would reject a drop-in,” said Cavalier, who was replaced as chairman in 2014 by Tony Shepherd, who is also the chairman of AFL team GWS Giants..
“If it was taken to a plebiscite I’d be confident of carrying the case for traditional wicket preparation by a margin far, far larger than the majority for same-sex marriage.”
Smith, Warner and co will this week turn out on the SCG for the first time this season, with NSW having not played a home game in the Sheffield Shield there in the 2017/18 competition.
That fact is a cause of further concern for administrators and players ahead of the Test.
“We’re disappointed and concerned that this summer, as an example, the Blues were unable to be on there before Christmas,” Warn said.
“It is a disadvantage to our Shield team and it is also not great for those same players who play in the SCG test because they’ve not played on that on that pitch in 12 months, a lot of them.”