There is talk of a circus tent being erected over the centre square so pitch preparations can continue as the rains fall. This is more akin to Manchester or Leeds than Brisbane in November. South-east Queensland has always had its share of thundery weather, but the recent deluge has had fans of Noah rushing to the lumberyards. The bottom line in Woolloongabba is that the pitch will most likely be under-prepared – meaning that the ground staff will not get sufficient time to cut, roll, water, dry, cut, roll, water, roll and do it all again within an environment they can control. Test pitches at the Gabba do not generally start on morning one with grassy, green tinges upon which Sheffield Shield batmen have been known to flounder.
The match is scheduled for five days with the view that all skill types are tested. Any home-town advantage would possibly be cancelled out by Joe Root calling correctly, sending Australia to the batting crease and then using the top-shelf expertise of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad to scuttle Australia cheaply. On the other hand, if Australia win the toss, the opposite may apply. The coin toss should not be a middling factor, let alone a significant one in deciding a Test match but, when conditions are skewed, the best team does not necessarily come out on top, and these two teams are fairly evenly matched. Pat Cummins’ most significant act may well come before the first ball is bowled.
Winning the first Test of this series is worth more than one. Besides a series lead, the psychology of the remaining Tests, to be condensed into six weeks, will alter dramatically. The distractions outside the game will amplify for the losers, while the winners can play with freedom of thought and intention. The losers will ask questions of themselves, of team balance and the legitimacy of peripheral performers.
Anderson would have pencilled in the first Test as the best opportunity to use his swing capabilities in a heavy atmosphere. A tad of swing and sway, and plenty of carry from the edges, is just the cocktail to cloud the Australian stroke play, and it looks like his wish will be granted with high humidity and more rain on the way. Anderson’s record on hard, dry pitches is not flattering, so England will want to get value from their greatest bowler, and Brisbane is shaping up nicely for him.
Neither side has had the preparation they would want, so that makes them even on that score, but that may all change once Joe Root calls on Wednesday morning. Captains can concoct various formulae or superstitions for calling heads or tails, but I have never known a captain who practised calling, other than on Anzac Day. The time may have come. The Ashes may depend upon it, as the home ground advantage wains via the unpredictable weather phenomena and virus blockades.
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