Pitch report: The Gabba, Brisbane
Pitch report for the first Test at the Gabba in Brisbane between South Africa and hosts Australia.
<B>Established:</b> 1895<BR><B>Capacity:</b> 40,000 approx<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 Jnr<BR><B>Test History:</b> 54 Tests; 33 home wins; 8 away wins; 12 draws; 1 tie<BR><B>Last 10 Tests:</b> 8 home wins; 2 draws<BR><b>Last 10 tosses:</b> 5 batted first (2 wins, 2 defeats, 1 draw); 5 bowled first (1 draw, 4 defeats)
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 Jnr, took over the role from Kevin Snr 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 23 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.
<B>Last Time Out</b>
The last Test played at the Gabba was in December 2011, when Australia demolished their Antipodean neighbours New Zealand by nine wickets in four days. The Black Caps had won the toss and chose to bat first.
Aussie spinner Nathan Lyon was the key figure in the first innings, taking four wickets as the Kiwi top order faltered. It took a 96 from Dan Vettori and 77 not out from Dean Brownlie to push the Black Caps to a respectable score of 295 all out.
The Aussies replied by nearly doubling that score, all out for 427 on day three. While the openers failed to fire, the middle order found their feet easily. Veterans Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin each scored high half centuries, while skipper Michael Clarke added 139.
The Black Caps' second innings was worse than the first, with James Pattinson bagging a five-fer as he demolished the top order, removing the top five batsmen for 28 runs. Lyons added three more scalps to his tally as the Kiwis were all out for 150.
The home side needed only 19 runs to win the game, and they reached that in under three overs, despite losing Phil Hughes along the way.
Australia batsman Michael Hussey, ahead of the SA Test: "I think the conditions are going to be similar to what we always expect here at the Gabba, it's probably going to do a little bit on the first day and it'll have good pace and bounce.
"Our guys particularly like batting at the Gabba. It can be really challenging in the first 15 minutes but once you get through that it's a very true pitch and you get a nice feel off the bat and can score very quickly and play all your shots."
Australia coach Mickey Arthur this week: "Playing at the Gabba is certainly different to playing anywhere else. There is a little bit of pace, a lot more bounce than usual."
Head curator Kevin Mitchell: "Absolutely, the pitch will start to crack and dust up by late day four and certainly on day five. I think you would certainly want to go in with a spinner and that is what history tells you to do as well."
James Pattinson, after his Five-fer against NZ: "We spoke about it before the game we wanted to try to bowl nice and full. Pup [Michael Clarke] supported me there and said it doesn't matter if you get driven a couple of times, which I kept at the back of my head and tried to just keep doing the same thing and it paid off for me in the second innings."
<B>Happy Hunting Ground</b>
There won't be any South Africans in this section, because the Proteas haven't played here since readmission in the early 1990s. Thus none of the current players have been to the Gabba for a Test, and the last time they played an ODI here was in 2006, when only Boeta Dippenaar and Mark Boucher made an impact.
As for the home side, <b>Ricky Ponting</b> has the most Test runs at this venue, with a top score of 196 and an average over 65. He has played 16 Tests here in his long career, and provided he gets over his slight injury, will be looking to add to that come 9 November.
<b>Michael Clarke</b> and <b>Michael Hussey</b> also have impressive records here, both with two tons to their names and averages well above 60, though neither have played nearly as many games here as Punter.
As for the bowling, <b>Peter Siddle</b> is the only current player in these sides to make an impact at the Gabba, having taken 11 wickets in three matches, with a best of 6/144. To put that in perspective, Shane Warne is the top wicket-taker here, with 68 scalps in 11 games.
Early reports indicate that rain could play a part in the first Test, with as much as 80 percent chance of rain predicted for Friday, and definite gloom on the horizon for day two. Sunday also has some rain forecasted, but days four and five look set to be relatively clear.
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 the Proteas are a very strong unit, and have similar strengths, so what's good for the Aussies should be good for the Saffas.
It looks like both sides will avoid an all-out pace attack and include at least one 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.
It promises to be a cracking opener to the series that has the number one Test ranking 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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