TODAY Australia will play Test cricket for the first time at Chester-le-Street, but captain Michael Clarke thinks they could scarcely be better prepared for what awaits.
Clarke made his second one-day international appearance on the ground 13 months ago, leading a team which also featured Shane Watson and former Durham Twenty20 opener David Warner.
Chris Rogers made a half-century there for Middlesex in May, and numerous others have previously played county cricket in the North East.
But few know the pitch better than Michael Di Venuto. Australia’s batting coach joined Durham in 2007, and only left when he retired midway through last season.
In all Di Venuto made 88 appearances in all competitions on the ground for the Riversiders, Sussex and Derbyshire, scoring 5,241 runs at an average of 47.2. Few have spent more time on the Chester-le-Street square.
No wonder it holds no mystery to Australia.
“Our knowledge of the ground is as good as you could possibly have without actually playing here,” argues Clarke, who must decide today whether to bring Jackson Bird into the team that performed so well in a rain-affected draw at Old Trafford.
“The guys have played one-day cricket here as well, which obviously helps.
“A lot of the time, travelling around the world, playing on different wickets, it’s about assessing it yourself as well. You can have all the information, which is important, and gives you some local knowledge.
“But the best way to assess it is to spend time in the middle whether you are batting or bowling.
“It is still 22 yards. It’s still three stumps at either end.
“We just have to find a way to keep that red ball out as batsmen and take wickets as bowlers.
“Guys will adjust when they get out to the middle.”
That said, it is more than just the new stand and sponsors’ mascot Zebras dotted around the ground which give it a slightly unfamiliar feel for Di Venuto.
England have prepared some very dry Ashes pitches in the hope they will play to their biggest advantage over Australia – spin.
The former opener, though, is sceptical about the assistance Graeme Swann will find.
“It’s not a typical Riverside pitch but I’m guessing it will still swing and nip around a little bit, as it always does given the right conditions,” says Di Venuto.
“It will turn, but any time it turns up here it’s slow turn.”