February 27, 2009

The pitch needs attention

Sambit Bal
Younis Khan executes the reverse-sweep, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Karachi, 4th day, February 24, 2009
 © AFP
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Most writers don't mind people disagreeing with what they have written, or even getting criticised. Freedom of expression, their own and that of others, is a value journalists cherish and guard fiercely. But I must confess I am a bit surprised with some of the reactions to a piece I wrote criticising the Karachi pitch that managed to get into the record books for all the wrong reasons. In fact, I had expected the opposite; that the Pakistan fans would agree with me that pitches that produce no contest between bat and ball are the biggest threat to Test cricket. Instead, many readers found my views "extreme", "ignorant", and worst of all "prejudiced".

Perhaps I wasn't able to communicate what I wanted to say clearly. I thought I was speaking on behalf of the cricket fan, in Pakistan and elsewhere, but if it came across as if I was singling out Pakistan unfairly, then obviously I failed. I felt the same way about the Chennai Test between India and South Africa despite Virender Sehwag's sensational, faster than a run-a-ball triple-hundred. Any pitch that produces 1498 runs at the cost of 25 wickets is cricket's enemy; and any pitch that reduces a bowling attack comprising Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel to cannon fodder makes a mockery of the most central appeal of cricket. I rejoiced when the bowlers struck back on a slightly bouncy, but by no means unplayable or dangerous, on which India were dismissed for 76 on the first morning in Ahmedabad.

The pitch for the final Test of the series, in Kanpur, produced an interesting debate. India had obviously wanted a turner and they got hit. The pitch looked baked and cracked before the match began, and though it didn't turn out as dangerous as people feared as it might be, run-scoring was still a struggle. The match finished in three days, and the pitch was reported by the match referee for being below par.

That riled me no end. Yes, the pitch wasn't ideal, but it produced a result; South Africa scored 265 in the first innings and India 325; and no one got it. How was this pitch any worse than the Chennai pitch on which only two innings were completed? Perhaps the greater crime of the Kanpur track was that the match didn't last the distance, costing the broadcasting channel precious advertising revenue.

This was at the heart of my protest against the mega bore in Karachi. For Test cricket to stay strong and vibrant, administrators must first protect the interests of the spectator.

I am keen on hearing from you. Our love for cricket keeps us on the same side.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Escort in London on (November 18, 2009, 1:19 GMT)

It is certainly interesting for me to read the post. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to them. I would like to read more soon.

Posted by Subhashis Biswas on (March 2, 2009, 19:05 GMT)

I understand and agree with the view of Sambit.Making sporting pitches is an art. And not always 600 runs are scored on dull pitches. But when consecutive innings produce 600 and 700 runs, then we have a problem.I dont think it serves any purpose for the game, to have doubles and tripel centuries and piling runs with no result. Gone were the days where temas scored 500 in 3 days, and matches end in tame draw. This Pak SL series and last test of EEng-WI are bad examples of boring cricket. You would ideally think of about 1470-1500 runs and 35 wickets over 5 days. Just need a little hard clay below the surface, ned a tint of grass. Bounce in the first morning, good stroke play for 1st 3 days, bit of turn in 4th and 5th. That is what we are looking for...not 650/6 declared type of scores

Posted by younis khan on (March 2, 2009, 7:43 GMT)

it is very upsetting that u dismissed my wonderful triple century in such a pathetic manner ! I am taking legal action against sambit bal for defaming me. Now, dont delete this comment ! For heavens sake, take a joke in your stride

Posted by Arsalan Khan on (February 28, 2009, 6:18 GMT)

I never really comment, I'm one of those regular-silent-readers.. but I guess your gesture to clear out things urged me to participate.

I believe your article was correct, and that Intikhab Alam, Wasim Akram and Younis Khan spoke about the issues too but.. I guess your approach in communication was far too aggressive for the common reader to understand.

An Indian writer writing about Pakistan is observed with a microscopic view from the eyes of a Pakistani fan.

Peace.

Posted by Ashwath Sekhar on (February 28, 2009, 4:07 GMT)

I have always wondered why people criticise rank turners more than green tops? Surely it is just as difficult to face a fast bowler with a new ball as it is to face a premium spinner on a wearing pitch. Frankly pitches with "character" in them often produce the most riveting and well fought test matches. These type of pitches require the greatest skill on the part of the batsmen and no little skill in the bowlers part. So long live the "ill Prepared" wickets

Posted by Feroz on (February 28, 2009, 3:52 GMT)

Your last post did seem slightly targeted towards Pakistani pitches, perhaps because the memory of the match was still vivid. But in all fairness the recent analyses by S Rajesh here on Cricinfo do support the idea that pitches in Pakistan have been slightly more friendly to batsmen in the recent past, though the number of drawn matches isn't much higher (as pointed out by others). The comparison to the Antigua pitch was unfair. Regardless, I believe most of us must realize that motive behind your post was not to criticize a particular venue. I believe most cricket fans (Pakistan fans included) would share with you the underlying sentiment in both your posts: "The Pitch needs attention" and the administrators must be held accountable. Thanks for sharing your views with us.

Posted by JK on (February 27, 2009, 22:26 GMT)

I think it is absolutely correct to say that pitches worldwide have lost their bite. I think we have the remember that this is test cricket with emphasis on the word "test". In my opinion, if a pitch is so flat and bland that a gautam gambhir can bat just as well as a sachin or kallis, it is worthless to even consider watching the game (no disrespect to GG, but you get the point hopefully). The beauty of cricket is to watch truly great players conquer challenging conditions. Any bias towards batsmen or bowlers makes the game a moot point. An ideal wicket should afford the batsmen a chance of a 100 and the bowlers a chance of a five for...

Posted by Stuart on (February 27, 2009, 19:13 GMT)

I totally agree on the flat lifeless pitch issue. I struggled through the final day of the Lord's Test against SA last summer, that was awful. As a slightly left-field solution, how about bringing back timeless Tests? With the modern congested schedule the players would be clamouring for a raging turner.

Posted by D.V.C. on (February 27, 2009, 17:16 GMT)

I completely agree with you. The bats are too powerful, the boundaries are too short and the pitches are too flat and lifeless. I look at the scorecards for the pre-WWI tests with longing, wondering what a spectacle it must have been to see batsman struggle all day for 50. Often I wish for the return of uncovered pitches.

For me, predicting the weather was always part of a captain's job. A return to uncovered pitches would give something back to the bowlers and increase the importance of captains' declaration decisions.

I guess I'm primarily a traditionalist (so much so that I complain to my friends about underarm lobs requiring an agreement between captains to be legal) but I'm beginning to think in favour of night tests. This would return some of the balance to the bowlers, with more swing being available.

Also, if we used one of the test balls other than the Kookaburra more often that would be good. A larger seam is good for spinners and seamers.

Posted by Zaid Ilyas on (February 27, 2009, 13:51 GMT)

i am from pakistan and found your first article very very good... i agreed with every single word u said and thought u wrote a very good article... but after few days i found out that my fellow pakistanis are founding that article very offensive... and only reason for that was that it came from an indian writer.... I actually consider u one of the very good cricket writers.... first test match wicket was absolutely not fine.... i mean i m the biggest pakistan cricket fan.... but u tell me y would i wanna watch a test match where i knwww.. only thing u could get out of this test match is a draw......i hope pakistanis learn from their mistake and in future they do a better job..

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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