Aus vs Pak, 1st Test – Perth curator expects ‘fast, hard, bouncy wicket’ for first Australia vs Pakistan Test

Ten millimetres of grass has been left on the Optus Stadium pitch two days ahead of the first Test between Australia and Pakistan, but more is expected to be shaven off with head curator Isaac McDonald tipping a “hard, fast and bouncy” surface.

Pressure has been on the ground staff after a sedate pitch in last summer’s dreary Test between Australia and West Indies, which went well into the fifth day. This match marks just the fourth Test to played at the 60,000-capacity stadium, which has yet to reel in fans in large numbers.

A fiery wicket mimicking the WACA’s famous pace and bounce is being hoped for to help spark a Test match, with seemingly much at stake for Western Australia cricket. The drop-in pitch was moved into the stadium’s playing surface less than three weeks ago, having been curated at Optus Stadium since February. It contains the same local clay and grass species as the surfaces at the WACA, although pitches there played sluggishly earlier in the Sheffield Shield season.

The Optus Stadium drop-in pitch was inserted during oppressive late-spring weather, but the match is expected to be played in somewhat milder temperatures, around 30-degrees Celsius.

“The conditions are really favourable for making a really nice, fast, hard and bouncy wicket,” McDonald told reporters on Tuesday, with a green-tinged pitch notable in the backdrop. “I’m really happy with the presentation and how it’s going.

“At the moment I’m at 10mm [of grass] and that’s where I started last year’s game. But there’s still a day of prep. It’s hard to give a number, but I can’t see it staying at 10. Definitely not having as much grass on top is what I’m aiming for.”

With temperatures forecast to be milder, in contrast to many Perth Test matches played in stifling conditions, the pitch is unlikely to crack in the backend of the match.

“I just don’t think it gets hot enough. You need like three-four days of high 30s-mid-40s to really make it blow open,” McDonald said. “In this stadium we are quite sheltered whereas at the WACA it’s open and you get the wind, so it’s a different kind of an environment where we’re kind of stuck in.”

With conditions set to be pace-friendly, there could be a temptation to bowl first for the captain who wins the toss.

“I think there’s a little bit of grass on it, I can see from afar, so maybe a bit of seam movement early on and probably get a bit flatter as the game goes on,” Australia vice-captain Steven Smith said. “I assume it’ll have some decent pace and bounce, which is what it normally does here… but we’ll wait and see and play it by ear each day.”
While the focus will be on the quicks, Australia’s major edge appears to be returning offspinner Nathan Lyon, who has previously extracted menacing bounce in his previous three Tests on the ground, yielding 22 wickets.

“I like playing my role here. I enjoy bowling here, there’s nice bounce on offer, and it’s a nice place to bowl,” Lyon said. “The wicket looks like a typical Perth wicket. It’s all good signs.”

Pakistan will be without legspinner Abrar Ahmed, who has a leg injury, and left-arm spinner Noman Ali is set to play. They started their preparation for the expected faster pitch with a centre-wicket training session at the WACA on Monday, having played a four-day match against the Prime Minister’s XI on a sedate surface in Canberra.

“That was the slowest pitch a visiting team could ever play on in Australia,” Pakistan team director Mohammad Hafeez said on Monday. “As a team we are really happy with our preparations because we ticked most of the boxes.”

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