Australia’s inexperienced top order has been given some encouraging words by the head curator at Manuka Oval, who says they have their best chance of the summer to break a century drought on a pitch he believes will result in a fifth day.
But it is not only Australia’s batsmen who are feeling the pressure, with head curator Brad van Dam determined to not only produce an excellent deck for Canberra’s first ever Test but also to win the approval of the ICC pitch-ratings system.
Manuka Oval curator Brad van Dam. Credit:Jamila Toderas
Remarkably, Usman Khawaja’s 141 against Pakistan in the UAE in October is the only hundred scored by an Australian batsman in the past 12 months.
If no-one reaches three figures in the Canberra Test against Sri Lanka starting on Friday, it will mark the first time since 1882-83 that Australia have gone through a summer of three or more matches without a player scoring a century.
Australia will be desperate to avoid that dubious honour and a golden opportunity will present itself in Canberra for the likes of Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson, all of whom have never chalked up a ton at Test level, to truly cement their spots in the side with a triple figure knock on what is shaping up to be a good pitch for batting.
“They’ve got more chance here than anywhere,” van Dam told the Herald. “Whose responsibility is it that it is not happening? Is it the players, coaches or the pitch? It’s one of those things you can’t pinpoint the reasons for but hopefully this pitch can be conducive to someone getting a hundred and they can bat through.
“We want it to go as long as possible because it is a Test and a test of character and endurance. We want five days if possible. I think it will go five days but then again it comes down to the toss and what players turn up. I know before the first ball is bowled what the pitch is going to do.”
The seriously hot weather in Canberra over the summer has also been forecast to continue on the days leading into the Test, meaning van Dam and his team have been ensuring the pitch gets enough water so it doesn't totally dry out in temperatures reaching 35 degrees.
Manuka Oval has a reputation as a flat track from one-day internationals and T20 fixtures over the years but van Dam insists there will be more grass on the pitch than normal and enough in it for both sides.
With more than 10 years' experience at Manuka, van Dam is excited to earn his own “baggy green” of sorts but is also anxious about appeasing all the relevant stakeholders as well as making sure the pitch meets ICC approval.
The pitches in the last three Tests of the India series in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney were all given "average" ratings by the ICC.
“I am my biggest critic and people are telling me what is wrong and what is right,” van Dam said. “There is the pressures of the pitch ratings the ICC give and then the pressures of all the other factors in the background … and who you want to please.
“There are so many stakeholders involved and it is about preparing the best pitch I can all the time. You don’t want to put any other pressure on yourself. It’s a very stressful job sometimes during the year and all the other boys are the same around the country.
"We’ve had the shield final here, a Big Bash final, ODIs and multiple Shield matches but this is definitely the icing on the cake for me and my boys.”
New Australian squad member Marcus Stoinis arrived in town on Tuesday afternoon and he, of all people, will be hoping the pitch is an absolute highway. His call-up to the squad gives the team extra depth in the pace stocks.
Asked about Stoinis’ inclusion and whether it would be worth picking the all-rounder, van Dam said: “I’m not a selector or a cricketer, I just try and prepare the best pitch I can. You’ve got to have your full complement of players just in case things change your mind. I’m not to say who plays and who doesn’t."
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