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A bird~~s eye view of the Ashes venues Down Under

Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Brisbane:Guide to the Test grounds where the 2006-07 Ashes series will be decided.

First Test: Gabba, Brisbane, Nov 23-27

Australia is relishing getting its first crack at England in this week's five-Test Ashes series at Brisbane's Woolloongabba (Gabba), a ground where the home team is unbeaten in the last 17 years.

The Gabba has been the nemesis of touring English teams drawing only once in their last four visits down under while the Australians have set up their home Ashes series with some heavy morale-deflating victories in the opening Test.

Often regarded as the premier cricket wicket in the country, the Gabba, extensively remodelled to its current 42,000 capacity, is a haven for fast bowlers who can move the ball off the pitch in the sultry conditions.

Paceman Glenn McGrath thrives at the Gabba with 58 wickets in 12 Tests, his most productive hunting ground, while champion leg-spinner Shane Warne is also particularly fond of Brisbane with his best aggregate haul of 64 wickets in 10 matches.

England captain Andrew Flintoff will be mindful of not repeating Nasser Hussain's 2002 gaffe of sending Australia into bat in the November 23-27 Test. Six hours later at first day stumps, Australia was 364 for two and well on its way to a massive 384-run victory.

Local hero Matthew Hayden has produced some of his best Test innings at the Gabba, with four centuries as opener in 10 innings at an average of 79.20, while skipper Ricky Ponting has amassed 808 runs in 10 Tests on the ground.

Second Test: Adelaide Oval, Dec 1-5

If England can come away from Brisbane without losing it may fancy its chances at the picturesque Adelaide Oval, where it has won eight of 28 Ashes Tests (five drawn) with a victory there three tours ago in 1995.

Adelaide, the home ground of the immortal Don Bradman where his influence still looms large, has a reputation as a flat batting wicket and the rock-hard pitch scuffing up the ball can be conducive to reverse swing, which England's bowlers used to deadly effect in last year's series.

The square leg boundaries are the shortest in the country but it is possible to run four with shots played down the elongated ground.

Warne has taken 51 wickets in Adelaide, but McGrath finds it harder with 44 wickets in nine Tests.

Third Test: WACA Ground, Perth, Dec 14-18

The series swings to the other side of the vast continent and Perth's WACA ground for the third match in the series, finishing just a week before Christmas.

England has only won once in 10 Tests in Perth when Bob Willis and John Lever bowled Mike Brearley's tourists to a 166-run victory 28 years ago.

The WACA wicket, once famed as the paciest in Australia, has lost his venom in recent years, but even the great Shane Warne has struggled here with 32 wickets in 11 Tests.

The famed 'Fremantle Doctor' blows in most afternoons making it back-breaking work for medium-pacers bowling into the stiff wind.

The Australians, with local batsmen Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Mike Hussey and Adam Gilchrist likely to play next month, have not lost in Perth in nine years since the West Indies skittled them by 10 wickets in 1997.

Tearaway Brett Lee will be looking to this Test match more than most with a haul of 30 wickets in five WACA Tests.

Fourth Test: MCG, Melbourne, Dec 26-30

The fourth Boxing Day Test at the cavernous Melbourne Cricket Ground will be an unforgettable experience for the England players as they are expected to play before a capacity 100,000 first-day crowd.

One of the special days on Australia's annual sporting calendar, the MCG on Boxing Day truly resonates as the home of Australian cricket.

England won a famous victory here in 1998 with Dean Headley taking 6-60 in the second innings as the tourists won by just 12 nail-biting runs.

That is the last time Australia has lost a Boxing Day Test in Melbourne with Hayden scoring four centuries in his last five Tests there and opening partner Langer amassing 250 in the last MCG Test against England four years ago.

Fifth Test: SCG, Sydney, Jan 2-6

The series winds up at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground where England won the corresponding 2003 Test with Andy Caddick claiming 7-94 after Michael Vaughan had amassed 183 in the second innings.

Australia is expected to bowl spinners Warne and Stuart MacGill in tandem on the spin-friendly SCG turner -- Warne has snared 62 wickets in 13 Tests and MacGill 53 in eight matches.

If England can get to the final Test still in contention to retain the Ashes it will be encouraged that overall England teams have won 21 times at the SCG in 52 Tests.

AFP

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