CricViz analyst Patrick Noone profiles The Gabba.
The Gabba in Brisbane has hosted the first Test of the Ashes in Australia since 1986 and has come to embody the challenge of touring Australia: the weather is hot, the air is dry, the stadium is vast, the pitch is hard and the outfield is cavernous.
Run scoring is typically quick at The Gabba – in the 21st century among venues to have hosted at least five matches the run rate of 3.27 runs per over is the third highest in the world while the batting average of 34.83 is the fourteenth highest in the world and illustrative of a venue where wickets are hard to come by. The Gabba is a particularly tough venue for spinners with the spin average of 44.91 runs per wicket being the second highest of any venue in the world to host at least ten Tests since 1999.
Australia’s record at The Gabba is very formidable. Of teams to have played at least 15 Tests at a venue only South Africa’s win percentage at Centurion of 77% is higher than Australia’s at The Gabba of 63%. In recent times that record is even more imposing – since 1989 Australia have played 28 Tests at The Gabba and have not lost a single one and won 21 – in that period no other team has played more than 13 matches at a venue without defeat.
Australia’s brilliant record at The Gabba informs England’s poor record. Of teams to have played at least 15 Tests at a venue England’s lose percentage at The Gabba of 55% is the seventh worst among all teams and England’s worst. The last time England won at The Gabba was in 1986 – since then they have played seven matches, losing five (1990, 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2013) and drawing two (1998 and 2010).
The Gabba exhibits a small advantage to teams batting first. In 59 Tests 25 (42%) have been won by the team batting first and 20 (34%) have been won by the team fielding first with 13 Tests drawn and one tied. At the toss teams prefer to bat first, having chosen to do so 36 times (61%). This proportion is below the global average of 66% and the average in Australia of 74%.
Since 2006 pace bowlers have found less seam (0.82°) and swing (0.60°) at The Gabba than at any other Australian ground while the spinners have found less spin (2.83°) than at any venue other than Hobart. However, while the pitch may give little in the way of lateral assistance it does offer bowlers a lot of bounce. Indeed, among Australian Test venues since 2006 no ground has a higher average bounce height at the stumps than the Gabba’s 91cm for pace bowlers, while for spinners the 78cm stump bounce height is only one less than the 79cm at The WACA.
With a span of 150m from midwicket to cover, The Gabba is one of the widest playing areas in Australia. Despite that, owing to the extra bounce on offer, batsmen still find value in playing shots square of the wicket. In the last ten years, batsmen average 59.58 playing cut shots and 53.40 from pull shots against pace bowlers, with the run rate from those pull shots up at 12.18, higher than all other Australian venues. The 44.6% of runs scored behind square is second only to the MCG.
Against spinners, the lack of turn on offer allows batsmen to play with confident footwork – since 2006 batsmen have come down the pitch to 10.2% of deliveries from spin while the extra bounce sees 37.2% runs against spin scored behind square – both of these figures are higher than at any other venue in Australia.
LINES AND LENGTHS
Typically the best length for pace bowlers in Test cricket is between six and eight metres from the batsman’s stumps, however at The Gabba the optimal length is in fact fractionally shorter than that – around eight to nine metres from the batsman’s stumps. From this length pace bowlers average 23.83 compared to 30.73 from the traditional fuller length. When playing on the front foot against pace at The Gabba batsmen average 41.64 – the fourth highest among all venues in the world since 2006 to have hosted at least five matches. As is the case the world over, the fuller pace bowlers bowl the more lateral movement in the air or off the pitch they will find but at The Gabba there is often very little of that on offer so that slightly shorter length is preferable. On such a flat pitch maintaining a tight line is also critical: balls in the channel outside off stump average 27.23 compared to balls any wider averaging 60.76. This small margin for error is illustrated by the Heatmaps on the right.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.