Aussie press wary of minefield Ashes pitch

Australia took the first day honours in the deciding Ashes Test against England but a potential danger lurks in The Oval’s wearing pitch, the local media said on Friday.

Several England batsmen made starts but could not go on to get the big score the team need in a fifth Test they have to win to regain the Ashes but Australia require only to draw to retain the urn, with the series level at 1-1.

Australia, after losing the toss, hit back to reduce England to 307 for eight by stumps on Thursday.

The Australian press generally believed Ricky Ponting’s team took the ascendancy on day one on the back of four wickets from Peter Siddle.

But some were wary of the already deteriorating state of the dry pitch and the uneasy prospect of perhaps having to bat last against England’s specialist spinner Graeme Swann.

”This wicket is turning and bouncing and is up and down. It can only deteriorate,” former Test spinner Greg Matthews said on SBS TV.

”So who holds the upper hand at the end of day one? I would much rather be 307-8 with four days to go and with a specialist spinner in my team. This wicket is doing plenty.”

Some pundits questioned the decision to go into the final Test with a four-man pace attack and no specialist spinner in Nathan Hauritz.

”Spin is set to play the decisive role in this deciding Ashes match with the pitch already deteriorating to a point where it resembles a day-four strip, breaking up and losing turf with each bowler’s follow-through,” The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jamie Pandaram said.

”This was Australia’s day, no doubt, but concern will remain of Swann’s potential impact on their batsmen.”

Former Test leg-spinning great Shane Warne saw the final innings of the series as Swann’s best chance to redeem himself after so far taking just six wickets for 409 runs at an average of 68,16.

”If your job in the side is bowling spin, you couldn’t ask for better conditions,” Warne said from the television commentary box.

”What a time to make a name for yourself and put your hand up.”

ABC radio commentator Jim Maxwell said Australia needed a big first innings total to avoid a fourth innings chase.

”The pitch has already produced a few disturbing deliveries from [part-time spinner] Marcus North that burst through the top,” Maxwell said.

”And there is plenty of rough for Graeme Swann to aim at from [paceman] Mitchell Johnson’s foot marks.

”Nathan Hauritz for Stuart Clark may have been a better call, though the latter bowled economically in his usual supporting role.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Robert Craddock said England didn’t deserve to reclaim the Ashes.

”If England win the Ashes after scoring just one century in five Tests they will have got one of sport’s most cherished prizes at a bargain basement price,” Craddock said.

”Day one of the final Test said it all. England won the toss. The wicket was flat. Australia’s bowlers performed modestly in the first session and still no English batsman could take control. Sorry but that’s not good enough.”

The Australian said Andrew Flintoff’s farewell Test match was threatening to derail England’s Ashes bid.

”Concerns continue to linger about his fitness given the state of his right knee,” the paper’s Malcolm Conn said.

”This is all about Flintoff’s Test farewell and it’s been hard not to get the impression that the Ashes deciding Test has become all about him.

”He was part of another decidedly mixed England batting performance.” — AFP



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