Bewitching pitches, please stop being such…

By Ant Sims 27 February 2013

There’s apparently a growing inability among cricketers to perform on foreign pitches. Australia looked like a fish out of water on an Indian pitch which didn’t offer nearly as much as the scorecard would have you believe. It’s not a complete disaster, but the health of Test cricket could surely be placed at least at level yellow. By ANT SIMS.

Whenever cricketers travel to the subcontinent – aside from Sachin Tendulkar – the pitch conditions always grab the headlines. It’s a flat pitch, it’s a dry pitch, it’s a spinning pitch, it’s an unfair pitch. Every man and his (amateur, analytical) dog always has something to say about the pitch.

The discussion is enhanced by probing questions from the media, duly responded to by the players to fit the predetermined news angle.  It was more of the same when Australia recently lost to India in Chennai – and let’s be honest, the pitch wasn’t quite the sink sand it had been made out to be. 

“I think this wicket is fine for Test cricket,” said Ravindra Jadeja after India had clinched a victory.

“In Indian conditions, this is the kind of wicket there is. You can only win Test matches if you take 20 wickets, don’t you? There’s not much damage on the centre of the wicket for the fast bowlers. Whatever is happening is from their footmarks.”

And he was right, of course. Yes, the surface had started to deteriorate and the ball started to keep low, but surely the Australians knew what to expect after similar conditions has been the norm in India for years?

Michael Clarke scored a hundred, Moises Henriques managed 68 and the Indian batsmen racked up the runs while a pace bowler took their wickets. MS Dhoni managed a double hundred and India posted 572 in their second innings – hardly the mark of a pitch which makes batting impossible.

It begs the question: in an era where sides are becoming more and more professional, more managed, more rested, more well-oiled and generally just more, how come they are becoming and more and more inept at adjusting to foreign conditions?

Although Pakistan did not whinge about conditions in South Africa, the team has  struggled against some of the extra bounce and the pace which helped a relentless South African attack steamroll to victory. (There were, in fact, even rumours that owing to the Proteas’ dominance, the curator had been asked to create a surface which would guarantee the match went into a fourth day.)

Unfortunately for touring teams, it’s a reality that the home teams are in a position to dictate the terms for battle. A change in the pitch doesn’t mean the basics of the game have changed. Younis Khan put it perfectly when he recently scored a hundred against South Africa: Leave the good balls, hit the bad balls and rotate the strike.

Losing a grip on the basics is one of the factors putting Test cricket at risk. Many would say that it’s T20’s fault players have forgotten how to not lose their wicket, but that notion is somewhat naïve, if not deluded.

Some sides are still consistently scoring big runs and chasing down big totals, and many players credit the ability to judge run-rates, especially in big chases, to T20 cricket. It would be short-sighted not to acknowledge the role that T20 plays in the broader context of the game.

However, one cannot deny that something is amiss. Something is raising the risk alert on the state of Test cricket. A growing discrepancy between how sides perform on home turf and away will only foster discontent and disinterest from the cricket-watching public and, unfortunately for Test cricket, the currency of its success is always in the number of eyeballs fixated on it.

To get the optimal ROI, it needs eyeballs from both sides of the fence – not just the home audience. DM

Photo: Australia’s Mike Hussey (R) waves as he leaves the Sydney Cricket Ground at the end of his last cricket test match January 6, 2013. Australia beat Sri Lanka in thier third cricket test match. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne


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