TELFORD VICE, Perth
TO the list of people from whom much will be expected if the first test between Australia and SA in Perth is to live up to its billing, add that of Matt Page.
Like the Australians who hadn’t a clue who Dane Vilas was when SA’s reserve wicketkeeper was introduced to the crowd at the launch of the series on Sunday, South Africans would be forgiven for not knowing a thing about Page.
But he is an important part of the first test equation as the groundsman at the WACA – the venue once famed and feared as the place fast bowlers’ preferred to heaven itself.
Bouncers at the WACA don’t boom quite as high and handsome as they did when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson unleashed them in the days when there were as few restrictions on bowlers as there were on the size of their moustaches.
Those conditions have ebbed, and they reached a low there in November when Australia declared on 559/9 and New Zealand replied with 624 in a test that seemed doomed to be drawn from the first hour.
David Warner and Ross Taylor scored double centuries and there were four other mere tons.
It seems it was all too much for Mitchell Johnson, who took 1/157 in the first innings and promptly retired after the duly drawn match.
But memories of the WACA are not whacko for a South African squad who have known nothing but success there.
“Eight years ago we won here and a couple of years ago we won here again so it’s nice to come here and have that feeling that you’ve done well here before, regardless of the pitch,” Dale Steyn said on Sunday.
Steyn was part of the SA squad that started their triumphant 2008-09 series in Perth, as well as the side that clinched the 2012-13 rubber in the city.
For him the WACA was wonderful.
“Whether it’s going to be flying through or hitting the ankles it doesn’t really matter,” Steyn said.
“To walk into a venue you feel comfortable with always feels exciting so we’re looking forward to it.”
Steyn’s enthusiasm for the ground was not confined to bowling to opposition batsmen.
“The nets always seem to do more than the middle so hopefully we’ll make some of the batsmen jump around,” he said.
The first Sheffield Shield match of the season at the WACA this week yielded two declarations, three centuries and a first innings of 505 by South Australia, who batted second – and won by 10 wickets.
“The Western Australia boys who played on it said there was a little bit there for bat and ball,” Josh Hazlewood said on Sunday.
“Last year was a bit disappointing and hopefully there is a bit more pace and bounce and it gets back to its traditional way it usually plays.”
WACA groundsman Page said he would help that happen by leaving more grass on the pitch than he did last season.
But the cooler temperatures that have visited Perth in recent days could prove to be a speedbump.
“To get the hard, fast pacy wickets that are expected here we just need the hot weather to bake the surface,” Page was quoted as saying in a local newspaper.
“It is what it is weather-wise; we just get on with it and we’ll produce the best possible wicket we can under the circumstances.
“We’re pretty confident it will be a good surface, even if it doesn’t have the real fly-through pace and bounce that you expect at the WACA.”
Worse yet, neither squad harbours a fast bowler who boasts a monster moustache.