“Paranoid Poms” smell a rat in Melbourne conspiracy

Sydney: With the Ashes series hanging nicely in the balance after three Tests, a media war has erupted over the Melbourne pitch on which the fourth encounter between Australia and England will be fought out this weekend.

Australia’s comprehensive 267-run victory in Perth to level the five-match series at 1-1 last weekend was fired by their four-strong pace attack and the hosts would prefer another lively surface at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) next week.

The British media smelled a rat when the TV companies covering the series were informed Sunday that their camera positions for the Melbourne Test, which starts on December 26, had been altered, indicating that the choice of wicket had changed.

The Australian media piled in Tuesday, branding the English everything from hypocrites -- a similar storm was whipped up around the wicket prepared for the decisive Oval Test last year -- to “Paranoid Poms.”

The pitches for the MCG, where the local football code is played in the winter, are dropped into the oval and the head groundsman Cameron Hodgkins would always prepare a choice of two for the Test.

England coach Andy Flower said in Perth that he knew as early as England’s tour match in Melbourne between the second and third Tests that Hodgkins would probably decide upon the grassier track.

“When we were there for the three-day game they were preparing two tracks and we were conscious, from what I understood, of the one track being a little too dry to use for the Test match so that doesn’t surprise me at all,” Flower said.

A drier surface would better suit England, and in particular spin bowler Graeme Swann, but Flower nonetheless said there was no chance a pitch with the life and bounce of the WACA could be produced at the MCG.

Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) chief executive Stephen Gough said Hodgkins had decided which pitch to use long before the Australian quicks skittled the English batsmen last weekend.

“In terms of using the pitch for the Test, that decision was made before the Test in Perth even started,” Gough told The Australian.

“I’m glad we made the decision early,” he added. “I’d hate to think if we released it after Perth whether anyone would think we were up to something.

“I’m not surprised with the conspiracy theory, given the success in Perth. Cameron’s a straight shooter. He’s preparing it as he would always prepare it irrespective of the result in Perth.”

Bureau Report