Pitch report – The Gabba, Brisbane
We run the rule over the venue for the opening Ashes Test in the Queensland capital, where the Aussies have not lost since 1988.
<b>Established:</b> 1895<br><b>Capacity:</b> 40,000<br><b>Floodlights:</b> Yes<br><b>Ends:</b> Stanley Street End, Vulture Street End<br><b>Home Team:</b> Queensland<br><b>Head Groundsman:</b> Kevin Mitchell Junior<br><b>Test History:</b> 55 Tests; 33 home wins; 8 away wins; 13 draws; 1 tie<br><b>Last 10 Tests:</b> 7 home wins; 3 draws<br><b>Last 10 tosses:</b> 6 batted first (2 wins, 2 defeats, 2 draw); 4 bowled first (1 draw, 3 defeats)
<b>Overview</b><br>The Brisbane Cricket ground, situated in the Woollongabba area of Brisbane and universally known by its nickname the 'Gabba, has been extensively redeveloped over recent years.
The distinctive grassy banks have been replaced with modern stands and, while some of the ground's charm may have been lost in the work, the 'Gabba now offers top-class facilities for players and spectators alike.
The 'Gabba's most famous moment occurred in 1960/1, when it hosted the legendary tied Test between Australia and West Indies.
Traditionally, the 'Gabba wicket has been a batting heaven. The track is known for staying flat and true for the duration of the five days of a Test match. The fast bowlers may get slight assistance early on, but that is the most they can expect to receive.
There is often a little more there for the spinners, with the extra bounce as likely to hoodwink the batsman as turn.
The current groundsman, Kevin Mitchell Junior, took over the role from Kevin Senior and continues to produce consistently fair tracks that offer something for everyone. But especially, it seems, Australians; the home side haven't lost at 'Fortress Gabba' in 24 Tests stretching back to 1988.
That formidable record may be one of the reasons the ground has established itself as the host for the first Test of the Australian summer. The playing area, meanwhile, is quite expansive – at 171 metres long and 151 metres wide.
<b>Last Time Out</b><br>November 2012 saw South Africa and the Aussies play out a rain-affected draw, with day two entirely washed out.
Patient centuries from the in-form Hashim Amla and all-rounder Jacques Kallis in a big first-innings total attested to the nature of the deck, after which host skipper Michael Clarke's fine 259 not out continued the trend.
There was little to no give in the conditions, with the fixture's entirety offering a mere 20 wicket of a possible 40 wickets, as the bowlers pushed memories of many hard days in the field to the very back of their minds.
<b>They Said</b><br>"It's going to have to come down to the conditions. If it's turning a lot I'll be more attacking, but if it's not turning as much and if it's seaming I might be thrown the ball to do a containing and holding role so we can rotate our fast men from the other end and try to create some pressure. That's going to be game-dependent." – Australia spinner <b>Nathan Lyon</b>.
"Obviously it's going to be a pretty different wicket, the Gabba wicket compared to the two we've played on where bowleds and lbws were the preferred mode of dismissal, so it will be good to get on something with more bounce.Ã¢â‚¬Â¨" – Australia batsman <b>George Bailey</b>.
"It's the best ground to wicket-keep on by a mile, because the bounce is so consistent and it comes through waist high. It's also my favourite pitch, because there was a dilemma with the toss – on day five it was difficult to bat on. It was your traditional cricket wicket and offers something for everyone. Way too often in cricket nowadays, it becomes so obvious what you're going to do when you win the toss; the game follows a very predictable path and the wicket doesn't do enough deteriorating or it's not good enough upfront." – former Australia wicketkeeper <b>Ian Healy</b>.
<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br>Captain <b>Michael Clarke</b> leads the current pack here by a veritable Country Mile, on the back of 916 runs in 11 innings – four centuries and two half-tons included. That impressive conversion rate has brought a hefty ground average of 114.50.
Not to scoff at Clarke's opposite number <b>Alastair Cook</b>, though, who has amassed 356 runs in four innings at this venue. The bulk of that is thanks to 2010's 235 not out in the second innings. The right-handed <b>Jonathan Trott</b> managed an unbeaten ton then too.
Bowling-wise, <b>Mitchell Johnson's</b> recall is justified. The left-armer 17 wickets in four matches have come at an average of 27.17 – some three runs lower than his career aggregate.
Right-armer <b>Peter Siddle</b>, of course, removed Cook, wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior and all-rounder Stuart Broad in direct succession for a momentous Test hat-trick at this venue three years ago.
<b>Weather Forecast</b><br>Sunny and hot conditions are forecast for day one, after which cloud and a growing chance of rain gradually filters through days two, three and four, possibly clearing on the fifth. Temperatures, throughout, will near 30 degrees Celsius, with little wind to speak of.
<b>Conclusion</b><br>Australia have a formidable record at the Gabba, and they haven't lost here since 1988. They love playing at this ground, and the wicket is prepared to favour them. But England are a very strong unit, and have similar strengths, so what's good for the Aussies should be good for the English.
It looks like both sides will avoid an all-out pace attack and include a spinner for the latter days, though if rain does play a part then the wicket won't be as worn as they'd like.
Both pace attacks are champing at the bit to get onto this traditionally fast, bouncy track, and take advantage of the early help that some grass might provide. The batsmen, meanwhile, will be confident of good scores if they can get set. Batting first, as the record shows, is the right choice.
It promises to be a cracking opener to the series that has the arch rivalry in the balance, and it's tough to predict a winner. History is on Australia's side, but form is with the visitors.
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