January 4, 2013

Pitches

In defence of home advantage

Douglas Sloan
Kevin Pietersen inspects the pitch ahead of the Ahmedabad  Test, November 14, 2012
If pitches across the globe were uniform in character, where would the challenge of Test cricket lie?  © Associated Press
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During England's recent series in India, nothing occupied column inches or filled air time quite like the state of the pitches. Whether it was the non-spinning practice tracks, the slow Ahmedabad surface, or the pace and bounce on show at later venues, the pitches were never far from the news. Even MS Dhoni was compelled to comment. The subtext, rarely explicitly stated but regularly implied, concerned fairness. Was it in the spirit of cricket, really, to prepare such 'biased' tracks?

Leaving aside the fact that bias is of course subjective, it should be noted that this is not a question posed only to India. Conditions around the world vary, and pitches are prepared to suit the home team on a regular basis. Can English fans look at the green, seaming tracks of Trent Bridge or Headingley and claim the pitch conditions are inconsequential? Can Australians in Brisbane, or West Indians at Sabina Park? Such 'home bias' is not rare in international cricket, and it often comes in for a slating. It is derided as insular, as short-sighted, as regressive. The game is seen as fragmenting, as the skill sets required to succeed in each scenario drift further and further apart.

This fragmentation is accused of obscuring the true ability of each team - if each of the top teams wins at home, who can be said to be best? There is some truth to this accusation: India's recent loss was their first at home since 2004, South Africa have only lost twice at home since 2005, Australia have lost three times after 1993, and England went undefeated for 11 home series in the middle of the last decade. I would challenge, however, whether this is such a great price to pay. There is some value to a slightly blurry ranking system; where would pub chatter be if we knew, without a doubt, which was the best team or who the greatest player was? Cricket is a sport obsessed with statistics, and it is in these fuzzy, unknowable, and inherently subjective considerations that its heart lies.

In the same vein, the diversity of the game as it is played across the world is a strength, not a weakness. It would be boring indeed if every pitch were similar and identical techniques succeeded everywhere. Not only would such a world stifle innovation (can anyone imagine the doosra or the carom ball being invented in English conditions?) but it would lose a certain vitality. There is something exotic about the regal, wristy play of maestros from the subcontinent; something visceral about the lean, southern-hemisphere quick charging in from fifty paces.

Most of all, the game would lose its greatest challenges. As Dhoni commented, "You want to face challenges in Test cricket. These are the kinds of wickets that push you." What is a tour to the subcontinent, or to Australia, if the conditions are negated? Half the challenge is gone. Home bias allows the game its greatest stories: its heroic series and its magisterial innings. Without it, cricket would be all the poorer.

Keywords: Controversy

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by EDC on (January 12, 2013, 21:16 GMT)

I agree to an extent in that the test of a truly capable player is to adapt to all pitches; the game would also be poorer without pitch diversity, as you eloquently say. I, however, would contend - looking especially at the subcontinent, in particular India - that on the occasion where a pitch is such that the toss has a profound effect on the result (such as on rapidly disintegrating pitches where the preference to bat first is strong so as to avoid prodigious spin in later innings) there is need for moderation of natural pitch characteristics.

Posted by Dheeraj gakhar on (January 7, 2013, 20:45 GMT)

very well written.. the challenge of test cricket lies in the different conditions...

Posted by Anonymous on (January 7, 2013, 15:13 GMT)

Home advantage is fine - test cricket would be less of a challenge if all the pitches had the same characteristics. In some cases there isn't much that can be done - the ball swings in England because of atmospheric conditions (it's often overcast here) rather than the state of the pitch.

But I wish the test rankings would take account of this, and give more weight to away series wins. England winning in India and Australia, SA winning in England and Australia all need to be given more credit than if the same results had been achieved at home. Even NZ drawing a series in SL recently needs to be recognised as a good effort.

Posted by Steve on (January 6, 2013, 22:19 GMT)

Why on earth does everybody talk about 'greentops' in England? There hasn't been one in a Test for years! Some (not all) of the Indian team/fans were using the word when England were scoring 600 on the same pitch just to hide how poorly they played in 2011. Dravid scored hundred after hundred in that series too. The pitches were not green, or specially prepared for India. Check the photos, the scorecards. Stop lying and grow up!

If 150 is a good score, the pitch is crap, whether it's all seam or all spin taking the wickets. There hasn't been a pitch like that anywhere that I can remember for a while. There's been dozens of terrible high scoring draws since I last saw a 'greentop'.

What grates is when teams try to prepare something specific for one game. Let Perth be bouncy, let Mumbai spin, let Trent Bridge swing - that's what the pitches there are like. But preparing something for a particular game is pathetic - look at Edgbaston in 1995, or Mumbai 2004. It makes the game a joke.

Posted by Gautham Venugopalan on (January 5, 2013, 14:23 GMT)

Absolutely bang on the money!

Posted by hasan on (January 5, 2013, 6:44 GMT)

Well, with exception of Nagpur pitch, i really didnt find anything wrong with the pitches. Mumbai and Kolkata had the turn for the spinners which you expect on Indian wickets and Ahmedabad was a batsmen paradise. Its just that English won due to thier higher quality batting discipline and superior spin bowlers. Indians need to realize reality instead of living in denial that pitches were the reason for thier lose. They are playing non stop cricket and its affecting thier performances on the field. English were better than them and hence won. Take it like a man and get over it, for sports is for men, not crying babies.

Posted by HedleyTufnell on (January 5, 2013, 2:12 GMT)

Superb article - the measure of a great team is one capable of winning both home and away. The difference between the latter and the former can be substantial or slight, but the challenge ends up being the same in the long run. More experienced teams gradually learn to cope with tough conditions overseas, but the concern is that the demands of T20 competitions may reduce touring/experience in countries where these competitions are not as popular.

Posted by Shakti.J on (January 4, 2013, 21:41 GMT)

Brilliantly put,when India tour England,they get greentops to challenge the Indians,especially the batting might.The only problem is touring England when you are S.A is very different.The pitches are very flat & easy paced.It was even worse in Australia recently.Pitches are only green for an Indian tour.

Posted by cricket-india on (January 4, 2013, 18:24 GMT)

totally agree...somehow the concept of home advantage being a bad thing comes up only when a galle dustbowl or a kanpur spinner's paradise decimates english or australian opposition. remembr nagpur 2004 when australia were shot out for 90-odd chasing 110-something in the 4th innings? ponting invited dravid to join him in a complaint about the pitch being not of test match quality? really, ricky? when was the last time you joined a visiting captain to complain about the trampoline bounce pitch in perth being not of etst quality after having decimated said visitors inside 3 days? even the icc has screwed up visions in this regard - they censured galle that produced a result in 3-4 days and let off scot-free many bowlers graveyards where 1500+ runs could be scored for the loss of hardly a dozen wickets in tedious draws.

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