March 2, 2009

Pitches

The good draw and the bad draw

Sambit Bal
Daren Powell celebrates a great escape, West Indies v England, 3rd Test, 5th day, Antigua, February 19, 2009
Daren Powell hung on for more than an hour to guide West Indies to a thrilling draw in Antigua  © Getty Images
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Is it just a coincidence or are we entering the dark ages for bowlers? High scores are spreading like a rash. For the first time in the history of Test cricket two scores of 700 have come in consecutive weeks. There had never been a Test featuring scores above 600 and 700, we have now have two in successive weeks.

And who knows where the Lahore Test is headed? I am filled with such dread that I'm not even switching on the TV. Thanks heavens the epidemic hasn't reached Johannesburg yet. Now that's what you call a Test.

Thanks for your thoughts on my earlier posts. We haven't posted only those comments that were offensive: everyone has the right to disagree but not to abuse. And, with hindsight, I can now see why my sentiments about the Karachi pitch might have seemed a bit extreme. My feelings were a bit raw then because after a point every run scored felt like an assault on the senses and a betrayal of Pakistani fans who had waited for Test cricket for so long. But now numbness is taking over.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague the day after I wrote the piece. He didn't mind the Karachi Test as much. The appeal of Test cricket, he argued, was partly that it encompassed the entire range, from two-day shootouts to two-innings batathons, and in fact, the high-scoring draws helped us better appreciate and cherish the beautiful ones. He had a point, but cricket needs to worry when such pitches become the norm.

I'd like to clarify that I have nothing against a draw. Far from it, in fact. Most other sports have found a way to break the stalemate - tie-breakers and shootouts - but the stalemate enhances the allure of cricket. And draws can be absorbing, thrilling and fulfilling. A thrilling draw - like the one in Antigua, where Darren Powell and Fidel Edwards batted out thirty minutes to save West Indies - inevitably lasts the distance. And the second best Test of the 2005 Ashes series, one of the greatest in history, was the draw at Old Trafford.

A good draw doesn't necessarily have to keep one on the very edge. I have a simple rule to judge a good Test: it must carry the possibility of a result till lunch on the last day. As Waqar Younis pointed out, they might well have abandoned the Karachi Test on the fourth evening. That's not good enough.

But enough about what drives us to boredom. Let's move on to something bit more exciting next time.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Riverlime on (March 8, 2009, 13:44 GMT)

If you watched the Barbados match you would realise England were LUCKY to cross 400. Edwards had FIVE catches dropped, including topscorer Strauss at 51. The pitch was no belter but it was true. Had Edwards' edges been held, Barbados could have been a crushing defeat for the visitors. The pitch should not be blamed for being flat, but Anglophile reporters should thank the heavens that West Indian fielders apparently were asleep on duty on the first day.

Posted by bala on (March 5, 2009, 12:52 GMT)

I saw the England - Windies match as my expectations had gone up after the exciting draw in the 3rd test.Just could't get myself to watch Pak-Srilanka.It becomes painfully boring to watch batsman clobber bowling relentlessly (unless you are a supporter of the team which is doing all the smashing of course).Anyway I was watching this match and saw Jimmy Anderson bowling impeccable deliveries which would have go him a bag full of wickets in SA.Very sad.

Posted by Steve Howe on (March 3, 2009, 19:01 GMT)

The FA have proposed a "Mercy rule" in football, whereby a game is called off if the score reaches 9-0.

Perhaps we should apply such a rule (mercy to the spectators) in Test Cricket, obliging a team to declare at 500, and automatically calling the match a draw if both teams reach this figure.

Posted by John Lias on (March 3, 2009, 11:25 GMT)

Note to Rick and your following comment : " No-one was complaining when England scored 600 in the first two days ". Wrong. I was complaining. It was obvious very early on this was going to be a complete non-contest between bat and ball. And I' m English.

Posted by Preshant Sekar on (March 3, 2009, 9:54 GMT)

Harvey, the chennai pitch was actually godd against australia(2004 rain disrupted play).it was against Southafrica it was flat.Get ur facts right.

Posted by Asim on (March 3, 2009, 5:34 GMT)

Actually thats what test cricket is all about different pitches, different conditions, sometimes bowlers struggle and sometime batsmen. I think we should keep it that way or otherwise completely stop playing test cricket. If there will be no flat pitches then there will be no records for 300+ innings. If the bowler is good enough then he can get batsmen out on any pitch, Should we start penalizing batsmen for scoring 300?

Posted by david on (March 3, 2009, 3:36 GMT)

Having spent the last few nights flicking the telly between the SA v Aus game and the WI v England game I can't agree more. A pitch when you can score a lot of runs is great as long as the bowler feels he can get you out and you need to play well to get the big scores. The Joburg pitch was outstanding and on the last day all 3 results were genuinely possible. Contrast this with the other game and only 17 wickets fall in 5 days, why bother watch a game like that.

Posted by Imad on (March 3, 2009, 2:55 GMT)

Shame shame Mr Bal. You say only those comments were not posted that were abusive or offensive. I guess when I rationalized that the karachi pitch wasnt all that bad given that both jayawardene and younis got three chances each to pile up runs, the readers would have been really offended!!!! Besides, if the opposing captain chooses to bowl patr timers, it therefore is the batsmen fault for scoring a quick 150 odd.

In retrospect, this is the closest we'll come to have you apologize for your vitriol laden editorial, so Mr. Bal, on behalf of an offended nation, I accept your ham fisted apology.

Cheers

Posted by Rick on (March 2, 2009, 23:34 GMT)

No-one was complaining when England scored 600 in the first two days. England had batted well, apparently. The journos only started talking about the flat deck when the Windies did well. Any excuse. Windies are ranked 7th/8th in the world. Mighty England shouldn't be having any trouble, regardless of the pitch.

Contrast India in New Zealand. Mighty India went down 2-5 and 0-2 in 2002, and blamed the green-tops. They'll be doing the same again soon.

There's batsmen's wickets, there's bowlers' wickets. Some of each is good. But no excuses.

Posted by Altamash on (March 2, 2009, 22:58 GMT)

Karachi test match did have a posssibility of a result on the fifth day. Ordinary people did not see that but being the aggressive and innovative captain Younis Khan is, he declared the innings and SriLankan batsmen had to fight to save the match. Now, that according to Mr. Bal's definition should qualify as a good draw. Still he keeps on criticising. He is so CONFUSED. Talking about pitches, yes! they are flat nowadays and with more cricket being played they are becoming flatter. Life is slowly and steadily being drained out of them. May be there is a need to lay some new pitches or RElay some old ones because from what I have seen in recent years there have been more results on newer pitches and in new grounds. For example, in Pakistan the pitches in Multan are very young as compared to Karachi and Lahore and 80% of the time there has been a result with only one draw and that too was a GOOD DRAW, Pakistan battling to save the match.

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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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