Australia might have found its new fortress. The Gabba, colloquially called the Gabbatoir, was once the first bastion for touring teams to breach, and Australia’s gladiators would invite them in like lambs to the slaughter.
They would break their opponents’ spirits in the first five days of a tour on a fast, bouncy pitch under a harsh, unforgiving sun and send them on their way around the country for two or four more defeats.
But the Gabba has only once hosted the opening Test of an Australian summer since India felled the fortress in the fourth Test of the 2020-21 series.
Perth’s Optus Stadium, with its equally harsh sun, bright light, and its steep and at times unpredictable bounce is fast becoming Australia’s favourite place to play at home after they poleaxed Pakistan inside four days, bowling them out for 89 in the fourth innings to set up a 360-run win and leave the tourists pondering how on earth they can win down under.
It has raised thoughts inside the Australian camp about whether Perth should be the starting point for every major home series, with India looming on the horizon next summer. Captain Pat Cummins was diplomatic, but he revealed that there are others within his dressing room who believe that the visiting team’s first port should be at Perth Stadium.
“I don’t have a strong opinion on that,” Cummins said after the win. “I know a few other people do. And I think the last few years, most wickets here, Adelaide’s always a great wicket, the Gabba is always pretty good. MCG is good. They’re all, I think, quite Australian fast, bouncy wickets with a bit of sideways movement. So I’m not too fussed wherever it is to be honest.”
Australia’s record at Perth’s new venue is imposing. Four Test matches, four victories, the closest margin being 146 runs. It is an upgrade on the old WACA ground, which had a fiery reputation but had mellowed in its old age with Australia beaten there four times this century including once by India.
The blueprint has been the same in each match at the new stadium. Bat first and post an above-par score on a surface that has offered plenty of pace and bounce for the quicks if they put it in the right areas. Then Australia’s attack goes to work on a pitch they love bowling on to take 20 wickets against opponents who simply can’t handle the steep bounce and pace of the surface as it continues to get more unpredictable as the game wears on.
Australia’s bowlers would roll up this pitch and take it with them wherever they go.
“Every week,” Cummins said. “It would be lovely.
“After the first few days, I think there was 12 wickets that fell, but I think they could have easily been 20. I thought it was a really good, even contest. There’s some runs to be scored there but also it felt like as a bowler if you got in the right areas there’s something in it for the whole innings. It probably broke up today in particular a lot more than I thought it would. There were some big cracks and there’s a bit more up and down than I was expecting but overall I thought it was a good wicket.”
But the secret to Australia’s success is not just that their bowlers love it, but that their opponents do not know how to bat here as well as Australia’s players do. There is a specific blueprint to batting in Perth. There are plenty of runs to be had if you do your homework and follow the rules. But Pakistan’s players had not done their homework. Shan Masood was one of only two batters to have played on this pitch before in a tour match against Australia A in 2019.
But he committed a cardinal sin in Perth in both innings, driving on the up away from his body to nick off twice in the match. Australia’s players simply do not take that risk in Perth due to the extra bounce. David Warner and Mitchell Marsh only drove balls that were genuine half-volleys. They left a lot of good-length balls. They sweated on chest- and shoulder-high short balls and played them with fully committed horizontal-bat shots. Anything higher was ducked under. Usman Khawaja hung back on the back foot and used the pace to deflect during his second innings of 90, rather than trying to force on the up as the pitch became more unpredictable on day four.
Pakistan’s batters propped forward time and again to balls climbing from a good length to provide catching practice off the shoulder of the bat or gloves to a cordon standing halfway to the fence.
Nathan Lyon, who took his 500th Test wicket on day four, praised the batters for setting up the game.
“I don’t think we’re talking enough about the partnership between Usman and Mitch Marsh on a challenging wicket against quality bowlers,” Lyon said. “To have a hundred-run partnership and give Pat the chance to declare and put us in a really strong position in the game, I feel like their batting performance in this game, hats off to them, that’s what as bowlers we love to see.”
Just like Australia’s batters and bowlers are challenged when they head to the subcontinent, they have no qualms about inflicting the same pain on opponents on pitches like the one in Perth.
“We know from travelling overseas, you go to foreign conditions and if you’re a batter and you don’t score runs, you start questioning things,” Cummins said. “As a bowler, if you haven’t had a huge impact you start looking at your own game perhaps a bit more than you do at home. So we love those conditions. We know those conditions really well. I think that’s what makes playing and winning away from home so difficult.”