A visit from the Doctor

  • A visit from the Doctor
    16.12.2010 16:39

    The third Ashes Test has begun at the WACA in Perth, Western Australia, and the weather will stay dry and hot through to Sunday at least. There will be plentiful sunshine with temperatures in the low to mid thirties Celsius but on Monday, if the match lasts that long, there is going to be an increasing threat of sharp showers.

    In that regard the weather might have little direct effect on the result but there could be days of enervating toil in the field, especially for the bowlers.

    One unique facet of Perth’s climate, however, is the afternoon breeze that often springs up through the summer. This is a sea-breeze that blows from the general direction of Fremantle, and its cooling, emollient effect can bring such relief that it is called the Fremantle Doctor. However, it can also get up to steady speeds of 20mph, strong enough to drive people from the beaches.

    It is this sort of strength that can influence both bowling and batting at the WACA, and knowledge of its effects may be one of the reasons why the Australian team so seldom loses in Perth. England’s cricketers have prevailed only once.

    As the ex-Test spinner Vic Marks points out, the Fremantle Doctor can be useful for a swing bowler to bowl into from the Prindiville Stand End as it may aid his natural swing. It can, however, prove a nightmare for a spin bowler, as Monty Panesar discovered in 2006.

    When England’s captain Andrew Flintoff tossed him the ball in Australia’s second innings, Adam Gilchrist, taking guard 22 yards away, licked his lips. Panesar’s spin, he knew, would allow him as a left-handed batsman to hit with the wind and carry the ball far over the boundary.

    He duly launched himself into attacking mode and Panesar soon found himself on the wrong end of 24 runs in one over, the ball sailing far over the long-on and mid-wicket boundaries on the Doctor’s wings.

    Gilchrist went on to hit a lightning-quick century from only 57 balls, the second-fastest Test hundred ever.

    Alistair Cook has clearly done his homework, hitting a rare six, only his fifth in Tests, in the fourth over of the England reply on Thursday afternoon. He threw his bat at a short and wide delivery, and enjoyed the view as the breeze carried the ball high over the ropes.

    The Doctor blows across Perth with such regularity in the Australian summer simply because it is a sea-breeze, which depends on a high contrast between the hot land and lower sea-surface temperatures. The waters off the Perth coast are currently around 21 degrees.

    As the temperature inland rises into the thirties through the day it causes air to rise and form an area of low pressure - a “heat low”. Pressure over the ocean, all other things being equal, stays relatively high, and air then simply rushes from high pressure to low.

    The temperature contrast between land and sea is highest during December and January, and these are the months during which the Doctor tends to be strongest. England’s preparations might have been well served by a quick course in meteorology.

    By: Stephen Davenport