The Ashes: A guide to the five venues

By Online Editorial

Andrew Hughes tells us what we can expect from the five Ashes venues this summer.

Sophia Gardens: There is always a certain amount of mystery surrounding a new Test venue and punters and players alike have been trying to gauge how the Cardiff pitch will play. Its reputation as a slow, low turner was enhanced by the Friends Provident game there in May after which Glamorgan were docked points for producing a wicket that offered ‘excessive’ turn. This fuelled the speculation that England might go with a two-spinner strategy.

However, we should bear in mind how important this occasion is for the Glamorgan authorities. If the ball started turning square from day one, it would be a public relations disaster for a venue that last year had to abandon a one day international due to faulty drainage.

I think those considering lumping on a spin-loaded England to win the First Test at 4.2 might find that Sophia Gardens 2009 may not turn out to be quite as spin-friendly as everyone is expecting.

Lord’s: Since the drainage work of 2002-03, draws have been the fashion at the headquarters of cricket. Though there was a little extra bounce on display during the World Twenty20, this is a pitch that simply doesn’t deteriorate over the five days.

Last minute watering to get some life into it may offer the bowlers something on the first morning. After that, it is ball-chasing time.

England haven’t beaten Australia at Lord’s since 1934 but perhaps of more relevance will be the question of how well Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark and Peter Siddle are able to adapt to the famous slope. Perhaps Glenn McGrath might be able to give them some pointers. Of the five venues, this is the one most likely to produce a stalemate.

Edgbaston: England have an excellent record at this Midlands venue, going back to 1902 when they skittled the Aussies for 36. Support for the home side is usually at its most raucous here and the players obviously enjoy playing in front of such a lively, committed audience who come to enjoy themselves.

Edgbaston tends not to produce that many draws, though why this is remains something of a mystery. Although there is sometimes a hint of assistance for the spinners, it is essentially a good batting pitch and Warwickshire’s bowlers have toiled in vain on it so far this season, not helped by the lightning fast outfield. Perhaps the best hope of a result is through reverse swing as the pitch can get a little dusty.

Headingley: This venerable, slightly decrepit venue missed out on an Ashes Test last time round and so compensation awaits in 2009. Unfortunately, the build-up has been far from ideal, with delays to the relaying of the outfield causing complaints about unevenness from the Yorkshire bowlers and the embarrassing abandonment of a one day game against the West Indies when the drainage system failed.

Still, assuming that the outfield behaves itself, we can be fairly sure what we will get from Headingley. If there is cloud around, the ball swings, but the wicket itself is a fairly docile, batting-friendly one, although the lack of pace in it means that batsmen need to exercise patience.

Full-pitched seam and swing bowling is the order of the day here. Fast bowlers will get nothing out of it and spinners may as well not turn up.

The Oval: At least the traditional finale to the Ashes has not been tampered with. The scene of some historic English triumphs, not least the 2005 series-clincher, it is a most un-English wicket.

The hard surface offers plenty for fast bowlers prepared to bend their backs and also means that the ball comes through nicely onto the bat, favouring those players who like to play their strokes. Squint a little and you could be in Perth.

Yet whilst the likes of Johnson, Siddle and Lee may have the England batsmen hopping around here, the Oval also gives some encouragement to spinners and the extra bounce makes them that much more dangerous. It would be no surprise to see England pick two spinners for the final and possibly deciding game of the Ashes.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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