Manuka Oval passes Test rehearsal to bust the batsman's paradise myth
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Manuka Oval passes Test rehearsal to bust the batsman's paradise myth

Manuka Oval curator Brad Van Dam hopes a Sheffield Shield dress rehearsal has busted the myth that the ground is a batsman's paradise, confident his staff have found the right mix for Canberra's historic Test.

The capital will host its first Test when Australia plays against Sri Lanka from February 1, kick-starting a hectic two months for Van Dam and his team who will also juggle a Big Bash game and two AFL matches at the venue.

The Sheffield Shield match between NSW and Queensland was a perfect dress rehearsal for Canberra's first Test.

The Sheffield Shield match between NSW and Queensland was a perfect dress rehearsal for Canberra's first Test.Credit:AAP

But the Test is the marquee fixture for a blockbuster summer and NSW's win against Queensland earlier this month reinforced Van Dam's preparation for the perfect Test wicket.

Thirty-three wickets fell inside four days of the Sheffield Shield clash, putting to bed Manuka's reputation as a flat wicket which helps batsmen.

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"As the years have gone on, we've tweaked a few of our preparation processes," Van Dam said.

"A lot of people don't see or hear about the results in our ACT Comets games, where we have had good solid games. The Shield was a great one and the four best bowlers in the country were playing.

"They could get something out of the pitch when needed and they showed that. Most people hear and know about Manuka for the Big Bash or World Cup or one-dayers. They see it showcased for those games.

"We prepare the pitch accordingly for the format of the game being played. The Sheffield Shield was a bit over and under prepared, a little bit on the dry side. But we had very positive feedback from batsmen and bowlers."

Manuka will also host Sydney Thunder Big Bash games on December 21 and February 9, and then an AFL pre-season game on March 8 and an AFLW clash on March 15.

Manuka Oval will host two Big Bash games and a Test between December 21 and February 9.

Manuka Oval will host two Big Bash games and a Test between December 21 and February 9.Credit:Melissa Adams

It gives Van Dam and his team minimal time to switch between the cricket and AFL seasons, but they have put plans in place to ensure the surface is in perfect condition.

Cricket ACT has signed a deal Mow Master for turf maintenance equipment for the next three years to help Van Dam produce world-class pitches and playing surfaces.

The Sheffield Shield wicket had spice for the pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, but started to crumble late on day three to give spinner Nathan Lyon a chance to cash in.

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The gave the Australian bowling quartet a perfect chance to test themselves on the wicket which will be used for the last Test of the summer, and Lyon finished with a maide five-wicket haul.

Lyon's link to Manuka Oval is stronger than most given the 31-year-old was once an apprentice under Van Dam before shifting to South Australia and he is relishing the chance to play Test cricket at the venue.

"Brad had it ready a couple of days early with the weather around at the start of the week, but it was a brilliant wicket," Lyon said.

"You know I’m not going to say a bad word about Brad, he’s my old boss. Pretty happy with it, there was a bit in it early on but plenty of runs out there, and it ended up reversing and spinning late in the game.

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"All round a pretty good wicket for Shield cricket."

A near half-a-million dollar investment designed to turn Canberra into a regular home for elite sport left Manuka Oval briefly resembling a sandpit last year.

But head curator Brad Van Dam has promised it will be in the "best possible condition" for Canberra's maiden Test match.

The ACT government spent $452,445 to resurface Manuka Oval for the second time in four years as part of a plan to secure Big Bash matches and women's World Twenty20 fixtures in 2020.

The new media centre is also expected to be finished in the coming weeks, with an official opening expected for the Thunder's match against the Hurricanes on December 21.

CRICKET AT MANUKA

December 21: Sydney Thunder v Hobart Hurricanes, 7.15pm.

February 1-5: Australia v Sri Lanka. Play from 10.30am every day.

February 9: Sydney Thunder v Hobart Hurricanes at 6.15pm.

Caden Helmers is a sports reporter for The Canberra Times

Chris Dutton is the sports editor at The Canberra Times.

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