Old Trafford exciting on the surface

By Matthew Sherry

It’s been three long years since we’ve been at this point: just a day away from a Test on one of the truly great pitches.

There’s something about Old Trafford – or Emirates Old Trafford in today’s money – that just lends itself to highly exciting cricket.

Admittedly, two of the last four touring sides to play there – Pakistan and Bangladesh – may not agree.

Of those, I imagine Pakistan shudder the most when thinking back to their encounter.

In 2006, they came up against an inspired Steve Harmison on a surface akin to those famous ones churned out by Sabina Park groundsmen of the ‘80s; you know, the ones that defeated fear-stricken visiting sides before a ball had been bowled.

Yet the fundamental technical flaws exposed in Pakistan’s batsmen by Harmison’s deadly nip and lift should not detract from the fact that Test was played on a perfect surface.

For all the Durham paceman’s 11 wickets stole the headlines, left-arm spinner Monty Panesar grabbed eight while Alastair Cook and Ian Bell hit stupendous tons.

As a quick aside, Bell – who at the time was in a vein of form akin to now – has a sensational record on the ground, averaging 81 in five-day cricket.

Anyway, back to my point. Old Trafford generally offers something for everybody; spinners enjoy bounce and turn, seamers carry and swing and batsmen value for their shots.

Excluding the efforts of those sub-continental sides mentioned previously – even among some poor efforts, Tamim Iqbal hit a truly superb hundred three years ago – touring teams are generally competitive too.

In 2008, England successfully managed to chase a difficult 294 to win against New Zealand – something that appeared unlikely when the innings started. The following year, West Indies fell just 61 runs short of overhauling a world-record victory target of 455.

And then there was 2005.

Remarkably, it’s a fair assessment to suggest the best of the last five Tests on the ground was the only one to end in a draw. But this wasn’t just any drawn Test.

It was the Test of Michael Vaughan’s 166, the first ton of that famous series; Simon Jones’ reverse-swing, including that delivery to Michael Clarke; Shane Warne’s 90; Andrew Strauss’ 106; Geraint Jones’ catch; Ricky Ponting’s 156; Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee’s rearguard and, finally, those Australian celebrations on the balcony. A side to be feared at every moment cheered a draw with verve.

It is surely too much to ask for a repeat. The current state of this series, with England sitting pretty at 2-0 ahead, does not suggest one should be expected. Equally, it cannot be ruled out entirely.

Despite the Manchester ground’s redevelopment, including turning the square 90 degress, reports suggest the pitch remains the same.

Now that, even for a north-easterner salivating most at the prospect of Durham hosting Ashes cricket for the first time, provides a basis for much excitement.

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