No pitch battles for Oval chiefs

Officials at the Oval insisted on Monday they had not been leant on by the England management to prepare a 'result pitch' for this week's Ashes decider.

updated: August 18, 2009 18:06 IST
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Officials at the Oval insisted on Monday they had not been leant on by the England management to prepare a 'result pitch' for this week's Ashes decider.

The series is all square at 1-1 heading into the fifth Test which gets underway at England's oldest international ground on Thursday.

But Australia need only a draw to retain the Ashes whereas England must win to regain them.

It was at the Oval where England posted the then world record Test innings score of 903 for seven declared, against Australia, in 1938.

Although the pitch has ever since had a reputation as something of a batsmen's paradise, seven of the last 10 Tests at the south London have ended in a positive result.

And Surrey operations director Clive Stephens insisted to reporters at the Oval here on Monday that England officials had not been on the phone to long-serving groundsman Bill Gordon, who has been on the staff since 1974, with a wish-list.

"They have let us get on with it," Stephens said. "They realise what we do here is produce consistently good wickets, year in, year out.

"I think the stats over the last ten Test matches are that England have won five, have lost two and there have been three draws.

"So the perception that it is a wicket set up to produce drawn results is just myth."

The Test pitch has not been used since England beat South Africa by six wickets last August.

Along with the rest of the square, it was scarified and re-seeded during the northern winter and protected from the wear and tear of county matches until Gordon's team began their final Test preparations 10 days ago.

Stephens added: "It will be a typical Oval international wicket, a bit of bounce and pace and fair competition between bat and ball

"By days four and five we should start to see a bit of movement in it."

This match will be the first Test at the Oval since the TurfTrax weather monitoring system, already used in horse racing, has been installed.

It provides information on rainfall, air temperature, humidity and even, thanks to a probe that can be placed in the pitch, soil moisture content.

Stephens said neither the England nor Australia camps had asked if they too could have access to the data generated by the new system.

England's record against Australia at the Oval is better than at any of their other home grounds, with 15 wins from 34 Tests, 13 draws and six losses.

But it was the first of those defeats, in 1882, - Australia's maiden Test victory in England - that led to the birth of the Ashes following the publication of a mock obituary in the Sporting Times newspaper.

It read: "In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. N.B. - The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."