Australia v West Indies: Sydney Test always has its own spin regardless of contest

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The Sydney Test match has much to commend no matter the strength of the opposition or the state of the rubber.

This series is over as far as the repossession of the trophy is concerned but the beauty of any Test match is that it stands alone as a contest and as an event.

In baseball's so-called World Series, the culmination of the gruelling Major League season, if the best-of-seven series is decided after four games then they just can the last three.

Imagine if the Sydney Test was cancelled because the series was already decided!

Maybe the original designer of cricket's international contests was a marketing man at heart. As all the early matches were dependant on their financial viability it made complete survival sense to play the dead rubber matches.


Imagine also how flat the pitches would be if all series had to be undecided going into the final match.

A lot of dreary cricket played on bland pitches would be the likely effect. There have been periods through cricket's history when a draw was considered satisfactory, although Tests have varied in scheduled length from two days to "timeless".

Even today, Test matches that are scheduled for five days which end in three (see: Windies in Hobart) deliver poor local financial results for vendors and organisers.

The television revenue, so important to the survival and growth of the game, is cut severely if 40 per cent of the transmission time disappears into thin air.

The ideal Test match is decided in the last few overs of the fifth day, just in time for the scorecard to be read and the commentators to throw to the 6pm news and Sydney has a history of last-day finishes.

A thrilling draw brings the same tension as a thrilling result; what matters most is how long the game goes.

Regular attendees at the New Year's Test want a five-dayer. It gives them more time to socialise, more time to renew friendships and five days of soaking in the culture of the historic precinct.

The Monty Noble bar may be redesigned, shiny and catered with stir fries but the ghosts of avid fans and old-time cricketers roam around every piece of glass and stainless steel.

Generations of fans have told generations of lies and generated more theories than Einstein while sipping a soothing beverage on the same spot that their fathers watched Noble and O'Reilly and Bradman and Lillee and Walters and O'Keeffe.

Today they get to theorise on what effect the new O'Keefe – Steve – will have on the battling but improving Caribbeans.

The SCG pitch has forever dealt the slow bowlers a usable hand. The pace and skid of Brisbane or Perth might give the seam-up merchants the lead roles but the Bulli soil laid down in Moore Park favours those who get the Kookaburra rotating.

In the history of NSW cricket, of the top 10 all-time wicket takers at the SCG eight are spinners with the wrist spin of Bill O'Reilly, Richie Benaud, Kerry O'Keeffe, Bob Holland, Stuart MacGill and David Hourn only led by the offies of 100-gamer Greg Matthews.

The Test honour board in the home rooms is dominated by slow bowling and the Australian selectors have chosen to honour history by pursuing a double-edged spin plan.

The paradox lies in the choice of two finger spinners to resume the decade-old partnership of Shane Warne and MacGill.

Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe are clearly the two best spinners in Australia. Lyon has become Australia's most potent finger spinner since Ashley Mallett, and O'Keefe's record in Sheffield Shield is simply outstanding. It makes complete sense that they should work together in the national colours and even more so that this should happen at the SCG.

O'Reilly used to demonise the fast bowlers and deify the spinners from the press box high in the Bradman Stand. His bones knew how difficult the slow art was and you could almost sense the Tiger willing another victim to the brotherhood. There were no freebies for the slow bowlers, but he also knew that the SCG could provide the conditions that encouraged his ilk.

O'Keefe knows the SCG like the proverbial back of his hand, although he doesn't usually get to play on pitch No.5 – the Test pitch. It tends to dust a little less than the outside pitches but the boundaries square are equidistant so the spinners aren't disadvantaged with a shorter hit if the breeze doesn't suit their drift.

Steve Smith will have the added advantage of being able to bowl either man from their favoured end no matter which way the breeze is tending.

The Windies' spinners, too, will find some satisfaction in this surface and, given that their seam bowlers have not troubled the Australian top order, this may give them their best hopes of a true contest.

Even in the Windies' golden years they found no joy on dusty Sydney pitches.

Holland and Murray Bennett bowled Australia to victory in 1984-85 and then the most modest of bowlers in Allan Border took 11 in 1988-89.

Can O'Keefe emulate Border's left arm devastation?

I'm not sure if he will get that many, mainly because Lyon will be have the skipper's ear for first bowl but having watched his dedication and hard work on all aspects of his game I can guarantee he will be playing his second Test match as if it is his last.

The rusted-on punters who have turned up to their favourite haunts in the Noble bar or the newcomers inveigled through the Big Bash League on the Hill will be enjoying a tradition – the New Year's Test on a spinning pitch.