Thursday, December 17, 2009

Have test match pitches flattened out for real?

I could not bear to watch the Rajkot ODI between India and Sri Lanka the other day. We basically removed one element of the game (bowling, if that was not obvious) and were much poorer for it.

Which has gotten me thinking about the current thinking related to pitches. Test match pitches in particular. Have test match pitches really flattened out?

I hope our good friend - The Sleeping Ninja - can provide us with stats about winning and losing ratios etc. here, but my focus is slightly different. How does one really pass judgment on a "flat pitch"? If one team plays on it and scores 700+ runs and proceeds to win by an innings, is the pitch really flat? Is the pitch flat when both teams rack-up 600+ runs in the first innings and the match peters to a draw? And, most interestingly for me, how are the pitches in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa judged on the "flatness quotient"?

The last question set me thinking. Is the pitch "lively" so long as batsmen from the subcontinent fail to amass runs on them, and are regularly nicked out / bounced out by the home bowlers? Is the pitch flat if subcontinental batsmen fare well on these pitches? I have heard arguments that Sehwag (amongst some other modern destructive batsmen) would not be as much of a success on pitches of the 90's. Really? Let me see - I remember him scoring runs on some pretty lively surfaces (his debut 100, the one at Trent Bridge opening the innings, the 195 he smacked at the MCG, plus his astonishing 200 playing Mendis and Murali in Sri Lanka when no one else in the team managed to score 75). Would all these pitches be termed flat simply because a subcontinental batsman (who does not play to please technical purists) was successful on them? Ganguly once scored a match saving 144 on a second day Brisbane wicket, where most touring teams generally get routed well within the 5 days complaining about being undercooked for combating the bounce and movement. Was that pitch flat as well, because Ganguly was not "supposed" to play fast bowling well?

I am beginning to think that the general decline in the quality of bowling may have more to do with the complaints about pitches being flat. Since when were subcontinental pitches a hindrance to Marshall, Akram, Donald and McGrath?


  1. I'll not indulge in stats this time :)

    A counter argument would be that the quality of bowling is on the decline due to a subtle but definite steer of the overall balance in the game towards batting.

    I am a bit of a conspiracy theorist on this issue. I believe that the equilibrium between bat and ball has steadily been forced to tilt in favour of the bat, more visibly so over the past couple of decades. The spectacle of choice for an average viewer, the commercial benefactors and the organizing cricketing bodies, is batting. It may have fed off of an innately human desire for instant gratification. The sight of the ball getting belted for sixes and fours 30-40-50 even 60 times in a day is the 'paisa vasool' factor. It presents a sportive glamour, an easier addiction and perhaps better commercial potential. A flat pitch is a progression of this ailment. Additionally, with the advent and high popularity of short forms of cricket, the bias towards batsman-friendly pitches may perhaps be an inevitable progression.

    That being said, there is still ample proof available that a genuinely good bowler will make a pitch a non factor if he puts his will and craft to it. Some of the well known names you mention and their exploits on the so called 'flat' decks in India are undeniable, and every once a while an inspired newbie or two have been known to wreak havoc too - a Dale Steyn at Ahmedabad in 2007, or a Lance Klusener in his debut test in Kolkata (?), for example.

    It enrages me when any/every Indian pitch gets generalized as 'flat' or 'dust bowl' by the tourists. I believe the root cause behind such notion is the suspicion in their own ability to cope and produce a result against India in India. Shouldn’t an Indian recipe taste different than Australian Valhalla Pasta or English Stew ? A visitor, if he is good at his job, will and should be able to cook his own stew in the Indian kadhai.

  2. I do not know if Mr. Ryan thought of it before I did or I did before him, but we do seem to concur on some issues :)