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January 17, 2012

Pitches

Stop blaming "bad" pitches for defeats

Michael Jeh
Ryan Harris bowled Prasanna Jayawardene, Sri Lanka v Australia, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day, September 2, 2011
Australia won the Galle Test inside four days, yet the pitch was slammed  © AFP
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Let's get a few things straight before I make my point; unequivocally, Australia has clearly been the better team these last few weeks. In all aspects of the game, they have batted, bowled and fielded with superior skill. Michael Clarke has captained astutely, the coaching staff has prepared them superbly, they've handled the conditions much better than India and the selectors have also made the right calls. No excuses - just damn good cricket on all fronts.

Unlike most other sports, tennis and golf notwithstanding, one of the great charms about cricket is that it is played on surfaces that require different skills to master. The great players and teams have been able to succeed on whatever pitches they had to play on, even if they sometimes lost a crucial toss and had to cope with a green first-day seamer, a crumbling turner on days 4 & 5, a pitch that developed huge cracks or one that started to shoot through at ankle height. I don't subscribe to the view that there is necessarily such a thing as a "bad pitch" (so long as it is not dangerous). Both teams get to choose their final XI's before the game begins, they have a 50-50 chance of winning the toss and they have to then adapt, even thrive, in those conditions. It's the same for both teams.

This notion that there's something nasty and sinister about a "home" pitch is just rubbish. The home team is perfectly entitled to prepare a pitch that suits their agenda and it is up to the opposition to choose a suitable XI to combat those conditions. If they don't have the skills to adapt to those alien pitch characteristics, that's nobody else's fault but their own. That's the beauty of international cricket where we get to see a wide range of skills in vastly differing circumstances.

What I do think is laughable is this notion that only pitches that are hard and fast and true are "good" pitches. Who decided on that benchmark? I love watching the ball flying through throat height at the WACA, I love watching the medium pacers nipping it about at Headingley and I love a dusty turner in Mumbai. Watching any of the great players score runs on these pitches gives us mere mortals a glimpse of the versatility of their techniques and of their mental powers.

These last few Tests in Australia have clearly suited the home side. What's wrong with that? With a vastly less credentialed batting side and a similarly green bowling attack, Australia have played smarter cricket and executed the necessary skills with significantly more aplomb than the experienced Indian line-up. I have not heard any talk of it being doctored or unfair pitch. It's the sort of pitch that suited the Australians but they still needed to execute the skills to knock off a team with the sort of pedigree of the Indians. No excuses.

Likewise, the next time Australia has to play on a foreign pitch that may not suit their strengths, they still need to not only learn to cope and excel in these conditions, but also need to stop describing these pitches with loaded terms such as "doctored, poor, bad, home-advantage" etc. If it turns on the first day, that's no different from it continuing to bounce and seam on the fifth day. That's the beauty of cricket. I do not understand why any pitch that doesn't bounce or seam or carry through to the keeper is necessarily a poor one. Home teams are entitled to produce pitches that suit their strengths and it is upto the visitors to prepare adequately, make the right selections and then execute those skills. Australia did it against the West Indians in Sydney in the 1980s when they were clearly not going to compete with their fast bowling arsenal. Moderate spinners like Bob Holland, Murray Bennett and Allan Border filled their boots on these pitches and there was no talk of it being unfair. It was their only hope of beating the West Indians in that era. No excuses.

If we look at the recent Perth Test vs India - 701 runs scored, the game finished just after lunch on the third day and no one scored a century in the last innings. India could not score at even 3 runs-per-over, but the pitch was good enough for Australia to score at 4.83, with David Warner making more in one innings than India did in either of their two innings. Good pitch. No excuses.

Let's think back a few months to the first Test at Galle when Australia and Sri Lanka met. There was widespread criticism of the pitch but Australia still won the Test because they played better cricket. A total of 841 runs scored and it finished well into the fourth day. The pitch was good enough for Mahela Jayawardene to score a century in the last innings. No excuses.

A few years earlier, Australians were much aggrieved with the pitch at The Oval for the final Ashes Test of that series. A total 1213 runs were scored on that allegedly dreadful pitch at a run rate of over 3 per over, it went deep into the fourth day and Michael Hussey scored 121 in the last innings. No excuses? I remember hearing the bleating from 10, 000 miles away. If the pitch was that much of a dustbowl, why did they not select Nathan Hauritz? Whose fault was it that they went into it with a four-pronged pace attack, despite having Shane Watson in the team as an extra seamer.

I'm all for fast bouncy pitches in Australia when we face a team that is traditionally weak in that department. I'm all for spinning tracks when Australia face teams who are brim to overflowing with fast bowlers (West Indies in Sydney in the 1980s). I'm all for home teams preparing pitches that suit their strengths and opposition teams who have to learn to cope. But don't tell me that a pitch that only produced 701 runs and finished before the halfway mark is a good pitch because Australia happened to win whereas another pitch in another country where 1213 runs were scored and finished late on the fourth day with a superb Hussey century was a poor one. Good pitches come in all colours - they're not just good pitches because we win on them. No excuses.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by noel on (February 2, 2012, 7:52 GMT)

Well written - Australia knows what to expect in India - wickets that turn 180 degrees - Cowan and warner better start practicing NOW - and like you said - NO EXCUSES

Posted by LeA on (January 28, 2012, 9:20 GMT)

Setting up spinners' tracks won;t help India at all given that ther spinners are next to useless. They should actually consider setting up wickets similar to Australian conditions given that they have a potentially very good pace attack. Not only that, their batsmen are good enough to learn to cope with the extra pace and bounce.

Posted by Stuart on (January 26, 2012, 2:25 GMT)

On reading the headline I was expecting to get an article which spoke out about the recent claims by Gambir & the Indian Media that Aus had prepared a series of "bad" pitches. No I got an article that basically says "When you get to India dont moan when the pitch is a goat track". SCG turns, GABBA the ball swings & seams, Adelaide flat for a couple of days then turns, always have always will, but its not as if CA have prepared a homogeneous set of pitches to play to our strengths. If anything it shows that India have been unable to change there game plans to suit the "variations" in conditions that they need to compete on. Does this ring true to what teams face when playing in India?

Posted by Stuart on (January 26, 2012, 2:10 GMT)

Long may India prepare pitches that suit them. It means they will forever be next to useless when they tour England, Australia, South Africa & the West Indies. Destined never to dominate world cricket (on the field of play). Question to someone in the know, What sort of pitch takes more effort & knowledge to prepare?

Posted by andy on (January 24, 2012, 14:14 GMT)

having a pitch where u can open with a spinner on day 1 is just not cricket mate

Posted by Vishnu27 on (January 21, 2012, 9:07 GMT)

@sundeep: more it is good slap for the hoards of moaning India fans!

Posted by Narayan on (January 21, 2012, 8:01 GMT)

Excellent Article. Dhoni has always been maintaining that pitches in India should have turn from day 1 rather than flat pitches.

Hope the BCCI listens to him.

Posted by Anonymous on (January 21, 2012, 7:27 GMT)

Right on. Excellent article. Fair's fair. If a batsman can only play on certain pitches well then, he's not much of a batsman is he? I actually have not heard the Indians complain about the pitches in India - mostly about the failure of their aging batsmen. And well they should. The only complaints on the Aussie pitches night be coming from some disgruntled fans but that's to be expected. The players for the most part have laid the blame squarely on their abysmal performance and for that I give the Indian players credit.

Posted by Luke on (January 21, 2012, 6:07 GMT)

Excellent article and as a massive Aussie fan I completely agree with you. I am confused though as to why you single out Australians as being the ones who complain about pitches the most. To use your examples the vast, vast majority of Australian fans completely disagreed with the criticism of the Galle pitch, as did most of the players. Likewise we were completely incensed by the decision not to include a spinner for the final ashes test, not that the pitch was in anyway bad. Of course the losers of a match are always going to be more likely to complain but in general terms I have heard far more complaints, recriminations and discussions about pitches from the sub continent than anywhere else. The reality is probably that we all do it pretty much the same amount depending on how badly we just got thrashed. But I honestly cant remember an Australian team or Australian fans complaining about series in India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan, on the contrary we enjoy those the most.

Posted by LRP on (January 21, 2012, 2:28 GMT)

This article has got a fair bit wrong with it - Australia, who presented the great Windies with the Waca to bowl on - were doctoring pitches? The reality is that the SCG played like that whether it was Victoria, India or the Windies playing on it, but I agree with the overall premise.

Having different sorts of pitches around the world makes the game more interesting. The home team will always have an advantage and fair enough if the home team chooses to accentuate natural characteristics in their pitches to give themselves a better advantage.

Having said that there is one sort of doctoring that is a blight on the game. The practice of producing intentionally dead pitches late in a series when the home team is ahead in the series should be seriously discouraged and stamped out. It's bad for cricket as it kills the contest at a time that should be the most gripping.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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