Bellerive Oval holds a special place in the hearts of many Australians. It’s a ground that doesn’t receive the love of the MCG or Adelaide Oval but is just as beautiful in its own way. The ground only holds 15,000 making it one of Australia’s smaller stadiums. However, it has been the host for some hugely memorable moments.
David Warner’s first test century came at Hobart in a low scoring test against the Kiwis. And of course, who could forget Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer’s efforts against Pakistan in 1999. Australia came back from being 5-126 to chase down 369 in an innings that propelled Adam Gilchrist onto the test scene.
Marcus Pamplin is the head curator at Bellerive Oval, and has worked on the ground for 13 years.
He has seen the ups and downs of cricket in Tasmania and oversaw the 2012 redevelopment. Pamplin spoke to The Inner Sanctum about curating the oval and what makes Hobart different.
The redevelopment of the stadium in 2012 was long overdue, and has thankfully given life to what was previously a dead pitch. Pamplin oversaw the changes to the ground and spoke about what this redevelopment entailed.
“The table was really old up until then, and it had a green profile the whole way through decades of growth,” he said.
“We took the top off the ground and incorporated 1500 tonnes of coarse sand through the whole profile. We took 120mm off the top of the pitch area because it was full of layers of past curators trying to put couch (grass) through the pitch. Couch just doesn’t survive in this climate.”
Marcus does things a little different than most curators in Australia.
While the rest of the country prefers the more traditional couch grass, he goes for rye. In the colder temperatures at the very bottom of the country, the sturdier and quicker growing rye is the preferred option. Rye grass also keeps its colour for longer, which gives the Hobart pitch the green colour we are so familiar with.
“You only get a (small) window with couch grass in the cricket wicket. It wouldn’t come back through the football season, or it would come back very slowly,” Pamplin said of the couch grass and his choice of Rye.
The Aussie Rules Struggle
The football season has always been the most challenging part of curating in Australia.
Aussie rules is a heavily physical game, and the wear and tear on the centre square and field is enormous. What makes it more challenging is the consistency of footy played at Bellerive Oval.
Nine weekends a year, the Clarence Football Club play on the ground. Finals of the Tasmanian State League and the Grand Final are also often played at the ground. This all makes Pamplin’s job very difficult, as he described.
“We only get a four to five week window to get it growing by the end of the footy season to the start of the cricket season. That’s why we went for the rye grass because it’s just so hard to get couch growing.
“If you don’t get it right for the first month or two, it stuffs you up for the rest of the season.”
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Red Ball Cricket
Bellerive will see its first test since 2016 this summer. The ground will host Afghanistan in their first test on Australian shores.
It’s not often that Tasmania gets to host a test. and this comes with extra pressure for Pamplin and his team.
“To an extent, there is more pressure. The whole world will be looking at you,” he said of the upcoming test.
With Afghanistan being an inexperienced test nation, there has been much talk about the type of pitch that Tassie will serve up. Pamplin made clear that he won’t be altering the way he prepares the pitch.
“If you’re trying to make up different pitches for different categories all the time, you’ll find yourself in trouble,” he explained.
“It’s all very well for the pundits to say make it turn a bit more, but you can’t just do that. It’s just what your climate and surface allow you to do.”
Pamplin went onto explain the type of pitch that Hobart will provide for the test.
“It will be a good bat and ball contest on day one. Then there will be a period in the game where the bat will go alright.
“With them [Afghanistan] being a spin orientated team, they might get some spin on the grass early when the ball sticks and maybe some turn when it dries out on day four and five.”
Pamplin is frustrated by some of the criticisms of not just the Hobart pitch, but curating more generally.
There is no doubt that curators don’t get the credit they should. Curating is an art form and takes a lot to understand. This was something that Pamplin expressed.
“Cricketers don’t understand it. It’s hard for them to understand because they don’t give it the time.”
White Ball Cricket
Bellerive Oval will play a massive part in the upcoming BBL and host an ODI later in the season.
Bellerive has hosted excellent one-day matches, and is known as a high scoring ground. The ground always plays well in white-ball cricket, with an average economy rate of 4.87.
Pamplin is exceptionally proud of the quality white-ball matches that Bellerive allows. He describes how his team get the pitch white ball ready.
“For the white-ball cricket, it’s still similar [to tests], but it’s thinned out a lot more, so the grass is still there, but there is nothing for the ball to bite into. You look for a pitch that is like a day two or three wicket,” he said.
“It’s quite firm and consistent bounce. We’ve got a really good white-ball cricket-wicket here, as it’s always consistently really good.”
Pamplin cited a Big Bash match from 2017 to describe his ideal T20 wicket. This was match 24 from the 2016/17 season.
He believed this pitch was perfect, and it allowed the Hurricanes to get over the Renegades by one run and scoring 223 in 20 overs. Many will know this as the Ben McDermott 114 from only 52 balls. Pamplin went onto describe his ideal T20 wicket.
“I don’t mind a bit of nibble in one-day games, but in T20, the aim is for a 200+ wicket,” he explained.
“The other thing is that you might not have as good of a wicket, and because of the game’s momentum, the batsman can intimidate the bowlers, so they can still make big scores on wickets that aren’t as good.”
Big Bash Hubs
Last summer, Bellerive Oval became the home of the Big Bash for a period in a move that saved Cricket Australia. The ground was host to eight matches throughout the tournament including, six games in only ten days.
With Australia’s COVID situation for the upcoming summer still somewhat unknown, a hub may be needed again.
Pamplin reflected on the tough job that was hosting so many Big Bash games during last summer. He even went as far as to damage his shoulder working so much during the hub.
“The difficult thing about it was that we didn’t have any [Sheffield] Shield cricket before that. Usually, what I do is have my Big Bash wickets on the old shield wickets, so it naturally thins out,” he said.
“But for these hubs, we didn’t have that pre-Christmas cricket, so we tried really hard to thin it out with the groomers, plus the weather was ordinary coming into the hub.
“I put my shoulder out with all the wind and rain leading up, so I had to do the whole hub with one arm.”
Cricket at Bellerive Oval isn’t too far away now. Tasmania will take on Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield from October 26. The ground will also play host to the Australia vs Afghanistan test from the November 27.
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