x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Big scores are on the up Down Under

Lack of quality in the bowling and the prevalence of flatter wickets are two of the reasons why 21 Test centuries have been scored on Australian soil so far this year.

Lack of quality in the bowling and prevalence of flatter wickets have helped the likes of Mike Hussey, right, rack up the runs in Australia this year. William West / AFP
Lack of quality in the bowling and prevalence of flatter wickets have helped the likes of Mike Hussey, right, rack up the runs in Australia this year. William West / AFP

For the subcontinent batsman nowhere has been as torturous a destination as Australia. The steeper bounce and quicker pace there is as much a contrast as can be imagined to the conditions they have grown up in.

Javed Miandad, the Pakistan batsman, once gave the simple advice to teammate Ramiz Raja that deliveries he felt he should drive – fullish that is – he could easily afford to stay back to in Australia and cut.

It still holds that to score big in Australia is to add considerable weight to your reputation, more than in most other countries. VVS Laxman's ordinary record in England, for example, does not get as much attention as his extraordinary one in Australia.

The quality of Australia's bowling attack has always had more to do with this than just the surfaces, but if there has ever been such a thing as a fair pitch, rewarding equally good batting and good bowling and producing a good contest, then it is usually thought to be somewhere in Australia. So success there for any batsman has held greater value.

This year, though, it has not felt like that. The impression that the balance in Australian Test surfaces might have tipped considerably towards batsmen was strengthened during the South Africa series.

It was not just that the first two drawn Tests were full of hundreds as it was that South Africa's pace attack, comfortably the game's toughest, looked as hard as cotton candy.

The sense has actually permeated for some time, crystallised in the lament over what the Perth pitch was once mythologised to be – bouncers going for six byes over the wicketkeeper's head, that kind of thing.

It used to be so quick and fiery and suddenly in December 2008 South Africa chased down 414 comfortably at nearly 3.5 runs an over on the last day.

When England won the Ashes in 2010/11, they did so with batting feats of such magnitude so as to invite suspicion: in seven innings they crossed 600 twice and 500 twice, including the fabled but plainly ridiculous 517 for one at Brisbane (which did not, incidentally, prompt any "death-of-Test-cricket" hand-wringing).

In fact, if you took specific recourse in numbers you could spot a trend going further back.

In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, sides scored at 31.11, 32.95 and 31.11 runs per wicket, respectively, in Australia. In the first decade of this century that number jumped to 36.29. (It is down to 35.89 if you include beyond 2010.)

So far in 2012, 21 hundreds have been scored in Tests on Australian soil and there is one Test still to go.

Two more hundreds in Melbourne from the hosts and Sri Lanka and that will be more hundreds in a calendar year in the country than ever before.

It will go past the 22 hundreds of 2003, a freakish year in which one of the game's greatest middle orders – from India – profited from a home bowling attack robbed of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. In terms of hundreds scored, six of the eight most prolific years are from the 2000s.

How about one more? In calendar years which have seen at least six Tests played in Australia, the runs per wicket average of 2012 – 39.19 – is the third-highest ever and it could yet rise.

Of course these figures are dependent not only on the surfaces.

Global trends of more prolific batsmanship over the past decade must be accounted for, as well as Australia's home domination and the strengths of the attacks that have visited since 2000 – essentially not very strong where, conversely, the legendary West Indian attacks of the 1980s probably kept average runs lower.

And these are purely quantitative assessments. Pitch-making being such an inexact science, a more nuanced assessment might allow some doubt about whether surfaces really have been doused.

In fact, domestic pitches have been criticised as recently as last month for being too fast bowler-friendly.

Darren Berry, the South Australia coach, suggested that those pitches were actually hampering fast bowlers by giving them an inflated sense of success, so that maybe the paucity of Australia's attack since 2007 is an underplayed note in this entire discussion.

"This year it seems, yes, you've got such a strong South African team and their bowling attack's probably the best all round in the world," says Tony Hemming, and still there were run-fests.

Hemming is the head curator at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai who has also worked at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

"And then you've got young guys that are good at Shield cricket because in a four-day match they want results and so the bowlers are looking a little bit stronger than the batsmen. And then when you get to Test level, it's obviously a little bit different.

"I was impressed when I saw them here during the Pakistan series", when Australia played three one-day games and three Twenty20 games in the UAE, "but they're not McGrath or Dennis Lillee, they're just starting out and if wickets at domestic level have helped them a little to get their results and there's not a lot of batsmen able to stay at the crease, then I think it gives you a different perspective."

Hemming, who has produced some excellent Test surfaces in Dubai recently, has a formula by which he decides on the success or otherwise of a surface.

"When you get the microscope out the only fair way to judge a good pitch is really the runs divided by the wickets, so that 30 runs per wicket is sensational Test cricket: 300 runs on a day, 10 wickets lost, that's close to ideal."

By that standard, the tacit conclusion about surfaces is pretty clear, though Hemming is quick with the caveat: "But if there's not a good fast bowler around …"

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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