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Athelstone soil a likely balm for India’s wounds

india Updated: Jan 20, 2012 02:36 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Rohit Bhaskar
Hindustan Times
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There’s something about the City of Churches that gets the best out of our gods of batting. From the time Vijay Hazare scored twin centuries in India’s first match at this picturesque venue, ably supported by a ton from Dattu Phadkar, down to the last match here when Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag hit hundreds, India's batsman have flourished at the Adelaide Oval.

Was it the presence of Sir Don Bradman, who spent the last 66 years of his life here? Possibly, the sight of a bronzed Bradman in full flow can inspire even professionals to indulge in a bit of air-cricket, hoping to mimic the Don’s exquisite form.

A more plausible reason is the soil. For 128 years, from the time the first Test was played here in 1884, the source of the pitch’s soil has been the same - the tiny suburb of Athelstone. Every year the soil, black cracking clay, is brought down from Athelstone, sieved, tested and dry-stored ready to top-dress the pitch for the summer ahead.

Once in the 1970s, no Athelstone soil could be found and yellow clay was used, but it didn't crack as easily. Of course, such a thing is unlikely to happen again as the South Australia Cricket Association has stockpiled 1000 tonnes of the soil, even though you only need about six cubic metres to make up the Oval’s eight pitches. The man credited for the smart move is former curator Les Burdett, who retired in 2010.

Drop-in pitches will be used from 2014 when the redevelopment of the stadium is complete, however, many, including Burdett, are hopeful that the Athelstone soil will still make up the prepared pitches which will then be installed at the Oval.

For India’s batsmen, the Athelstone soil makes the pitch the closest thing to home you can find in Australia. Since Hazare’s twin centuries in 1948, many India batsmen have left their mark here. Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Viswanath and Dilip Vengsarkar’s heroic fifties as India fell 47 runs short of a historic 492-run target; Sandeep Patil’s thrill-a-minute 174; Sunil Gavaskar carrying his bat through 202 overs to score 166; Mohammad Azharuddin’s valiant century as India fell agonisingly short and Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman recreating the magic of 2001 Eden Garden in a game-changing 303-run partnership are fine examples.

On this nightmare tour, India’s batsmen have been out-thought by an Australia attack that is fine mix of raw pace, unerring consistency and swing. Will the Adelaide Oval see a change in the script?

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