Rod Marsh joked about it but New Zealand Cricket have promised there will be no “stitch up” next week in retaliation to the Blacktown pitch debacle which ruined the Black Caps’ preparation for this summer’s Test series with Australia.
NZ officials insist there will be no dodgy wicket for the Sheffield Shield match between NSW and Western Australia at Christchurch’s Lincoln University, which is a key plank in Australia’s preparation for next month’s return bout.
With no official tour game planned, the shield fixture is the closest thing to a warm-up game leading into the two-Test series. Test wicketkeeper Peter Nevill, Nathan Lyon and Adam Voges are playing in the match, which will be their only chance to adjust to NZ conditions.
The rest of Australia’s Test squad will be either playing in the one-day series in NZ or taking part in shield games in Australia.
The Black Caps’ preparation for the Test series in Australia was jeopardised after a four-day tour game was called off after less than four sessions due to the unsatisfactory nature of the Blacktown pitch.
The surface, described as a “jigsaw with half the pieces missing” by NZ coach Mike Hesson, was also likened to one expected in the Middle East – hardly ideal before a Test at the lightning fast Gabba.
Nevill, Lyon and Voges, however, can rest easy confident they will get a decent hit out next week with their states. The Bert Sutcliffe Oval, Lincoln University, is not Christchurch’s premier venue but is internationally accredited and is home to NZC’s High Performance Centre.
“My understanding with Blacktown is it’s difficult to get up early season there, I think everyone regrets having scheduled there,” NZC’s cricket manager Lindsay Crocker said.
“Lincoln is a different can of beans, those difficulties don’t exist in Lincoln.”
NZC hold no grudge with Cricket Australia over the Blacktown episode, saying their counterpart had worked hard to find alternate preparation for the visitors.
“I’m not sure we were deliberately stitched up, we just couldn’t get a match,” Crocker said. “It’s not our intention to stitch anyone up here.
“I don’t think we will see anything untoward.”
Crocker said that while conditions will not be identical to Wellington’s Basin Reserve, the venue for the first Test, the pitch for the shield game would be a “typical South Island New Zealand wicket”.
“It is a good quality NZ-style pitch so it doesn’t have the massive turn of Asia or the high bounce of Australia,” Crocker said.
“Its characteristics will be easy paced and will last.”
While Australia have been dominant at home in Test cricket, they have struggled on the road with losses in England and the Middle East in the past 18 months.
Pitches across the Tasman are expected to provide more assistance to the bowlers than the benign decks rolled out for the home summer.
Australia’s preparation is far from ideal but Marsh did not believe it would be a factor in how Steve Smith’s men will fare in the Tests.
“I’m not too concerned about it because the way cricket is these days you don’t get too many tour games anyway and it’s just over three hours away,” Marsh said.
“We’re going to have a lot of our blokes in the Test team in the one day side, so they’ll play some cricket. I’m quite relaxed about it to be honest.”
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