Brett Lee woke up in Perth yesterday and he had a terrible vision.

He had just dreamed of a nation of kids playing backyard cricket with every bowler coming off a short run, with the occasional honest toiler tripping over the hills hoist on their approach to the crease. Sadly there were no speed demons to be found starting their run up in the driveway.

Australia’s number one quick knew who to blame. The curators.

According to the Weet Bix Kid, Australian fast bowling is under siege from the scourge of slow wickets that have taken away the simple pleasure of watching a batsman hit the deck avoiding a bouncer (or beamer in Brett’s case).

Gone are the days when Australian curators created express lanes for super quicks to terrorise batsmen. Who could forget the sight of Thommo catching Englishman David Lloyd in the “groin area” in the 1974-75 season? The vision of a mummified Rick McCosker taking guard during the Centenary Test of 1977? Or Curtly Ambrose and his shock and awe assault on Australia at the WACA in 1993 where his bowling earnt him the figures of 7-25?

Who said that was what we wanted to lose from our cricket?

Curators are the real 12th men in cricket. There are few sports in the world where the preparation of the playing surface can have such a profound impact on the player’s performance, the nature of the game and ultimately the result.

In golf the layout of a course is everything but the very nature of the game demands a contest between player and the terrain. That’s what people pay to see.

In tennis the surfaces vary as well. Both players are engaged in the same activity – endless baseline rallies or thunderous power serving these days – so the advantage is cancelled out.

With cricket, however, the pitch condition will favour one craft in the game over another. The batsman’s paradise is a quick’s graveyard. The green top is an instant death trap for batsman facing a pace barrage.

Curators are celebrities. Adelaide’s veteran curator Les Burdett is on the speaker’s circuit! Where else in the world of sport does the guy who tends the grass have so much pull?

For Brett Lee, let’s hope the celebrity gardeners hear the message. We want fast bouncy wickets that breath fire. We want bouncers and hook shots, ducking and diving. Damn it, we want blood!

Without it, it just ain’t cricket.

Peter Fray

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