Manchester: England captain Alastair Cook said on Wednesday that adapting to different conditions was all part of the game, amid suggestions that pitches for the Ashes series had been prepared to order. Cook's men are 2-0 up with three to play heading into the third Test against Australia at Manchester's Old Trafford starting on Thursday.
At both Trent Bridge and Lord's, where Ashes-holders England won the second Test by a colossal 347 runs, pitches were bare and dry, aiding reverse swing and spin -- two areas where the hosts are considered to have an advantage over their arch-rivals. Old Trafford has long had a reputation for taking turn and so should suit England off-spinner Graeme Swann, joint leading bowler in the series thus far with 13 wickets.
Indeed, England have added left-arm spinner Monty Panesar to their squad. It was at Old Trafford where England off-spinner Jim Laker took a Test match record 19 wickets for 90 runs against Australia in 1956. However, the tourists were convinced the pitch had been doctored, with former Australia leg-spinner Bill O'Reilly, covering the series as a journalist, saying: "Good god, I'd get 12 wickets on that excuse for a wicket without bothering to remove my coat!"
Two days out before this year's Ashes Test at Old Trafford, brown patches were visible on the pitch. "Old Trafford is notorious for having a wicket that is not aesthetically pleasing if I could put it that way," Cook told reporters.
"But I don't think it's going to make any difference at all. I think it's actually a better looking Old Trafford wicket than normally actually." Australia, who have now lost six Tests in a row, came into this series on the back of a 4-0 loss in India where pitch conditions were similar to the ones they are experiencing now.
Cook, however, said this was more a case of coincidence than conspiracy. "I think the hot summer has certainly made it difficult to prepare anything different. It is very hard to get moisture in when it is as warm as that. I think it is always weather-dependent what sort of wickets you have," he added. As for host nations preparing pitches in their favour, Cook said: "That's what home advantage is. It's very hard to actually just order a wicket.
"You can ask for a wicket to try to suit your style of play. But it's very difficult to get it absolutely right with the weather. "We had a month's worth of rain in three hours the other day, so that obviously changes it a lot.
"You go to the sub-continent and you play against three spinners like we did in Mumbai (where England won the second Test in November by 10 wickets with opening batsman Cook scoring a hundred), and that's what one of the challenges of cricket is." Meanwhile Australia captain Michael Clarke had no complaints about the kind of pitches his side had found themselves playing on in recent times.
"Well, it's smart by the other countries now, isn't it?", he said. "Our strength is our fast bowling so they are trying to take that as much as they can out of the equation. "If I was a different country, I would be doing exactly the same. The reality is since Shane Warne we haven't brought through a number of great spinners or a number of great batters against spin.
"So opposition teams are probably seeing that as an area they can probably exploit against Australia. And we have to continue to get better."