2019-04-09 by W.M.
SCG to resist AFL pressure for drop-in pitch
The Sydney Cricket Ground is coming under renewed pressure to replace its pitch with a drop-in wicket to ensure a better surface for the variety of other sports that now use the stadium.
The issue resurfaced over the weekend during the A-league soccer between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory when Victory’s Terry Antonis suffered a knee injury on an area of the surface at the edge of the wicket block.
A-league boss Greg O’Rourke acknowledged the surface had passed pre-match inspections but said: “The SCG’s wicket block, though, compromises the uniformity of the field for football in particular.”
“We appreciate all the work that the SCG Trust has undertaken to accommodate an unprecedented amount of activity on the SCG in recent months and we will continue to work with them in regards to venue usage in the future.”
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Sydney FC’s next match, against Perth Glory, has been moved away from the SCG. The ground is facing a significant increase in usage due to the demolition of the Allianz Stadium next door meaning both rugby codes and soccer have moved in.
However, while the latest controversy has arisen with soccer, it is the AFL that will apply the major pressure to the ground. Sydney Swans are just five years into a 30-year contract with the venue which unlike the MCG and Adelaide Oval, along with the new multi-purpose Optus Stadium in Perth, have resisted the move away from natural wickets.
“With a wicket base on the ground it’s something we’ve always been mindful of, obviously we’d support a drop in wicket if that was part of the discussion,” Swans coach John Longmire said “It’s certainly very important to discuss it, it’s a 12 months a year venue.”
“It gets highlighted now because there’s more traffic here and every weekend there’s a game where that hasn’t been the case in the past. Ideally the winter codes would appreciate having just the same turf all over the ground. We understand we’ve got compromises. They play a lot of cricket here.”
It is understood the SCG Trust, New South Wales Cricket and Cricket Australia would strongly resist attempts to introduce a drop-in pitch at the SCG.
During a typical summer, the SCG will host one match in each men’s international format and is the home for Sydney Sixers in the BBL. Sheffield Shield is still played at the ground but in a limited capacity with late-season matches in the recent campaign being taken to outgrounds at Bankstown and Drummoyne. If New South Wales had hosted the Shield final it would have had to be played in Woollongong, 100km south of Sydney, due to the unavailability of the SCG which, under the current agreement, is handed over to AFL in mid-March.
Last year, NSW confirmed plans to build a new base in the Sydney Olympic Park area but said they still planned to play the majority of their Shield matches at the SCG.
Even if the SCG decided it wanted to consider the drop-in pitch route there would be logistical challenges of how to transport them into the stadium. There also remain concerns about drop-in pitches taking away the natural characteristics of venues and producing sub-standard surfaces.
The MCG – the forerunners when it comes to using drop-in pitches – has faced significant challenges over the last couple of years but the development of drop-ins is constantly improving as shown by the generally excellent pitches at Adelaide Oval while the Perth Stadium pitch, while raising a few eyebrows during the India Test and being rated ‘average’ by ICC, produced a compelling Test match and the BBL pitches got better during the season.