July 12, 2014

Why not to judge a pitch on day one

You could have egg on your face in no time

Shorty who?
Shorty who? © Getty Images

After the sinking of HMS Flower, lost somewhere between Brisbane and Adelaide, English cricket journalists struggled to stay afloat among the wreckage, clutching at whatever intellectual driftwood they could lay their hands on. Some of them grabbed at the idea that it was all Kevin's fault. Others hung onto makeshift theories assembled out of passing debris: burnout, Graham Gooch's negative vibes, El Nino.

But all of them shared a common bond, forged in shared adversity. They had seen things. Terrible things. Nothing would be the same again. And they were resolute that when they made land again, they would tell the whole story.

Something was rotten in the state of English cricket and they were going to lay it bare. They were agreed that thrashing India on the damp green pitches of Blighty this summer would not make things all right. That would be like papering over the cracks, like throwing a cosy old rug over an unsightly stain on a sofa, like growing a beard to cover a facial blemish, like wearing a hat to hide a bald spot, likeā€¦ well you get the idea.

Yet as soon as they got back home they forgot about all that. Displaying remarkable intellectual flexibility, within weeks, they had gone from prophets of doom, prepared to say the unsayable, to ardent proponents of crack-papering-over, and when the England players began to whine after the first day in Nottingham, they weighed in enthusiastically, complaining that the Trent Bridge pitch failed to put India at a disadvantage.

The curator displayed remarkable restraint in replying apologetically that yes, perhaps he could have left more grass on it, but that he thought it might speed up a bit later on. What he should have said is, "Nick Knight to the lot of you! My job is not to create a pitch that makes things easy for England. It isn't me that picked a team with no spinners in it. Stop whining and get on with it, you nincompoops."

No one likes a flat pitch. Only a masochist wants to see slow accumulation by risk-averse nudgers and nurdlers on entirely uninteresting strips of undifferentiated brown, although curiously, English journalists didn't seem to have too much problem with that sort of carry-on when Messrs Cook and Trott were boring us all silly a few years ago. In fact, batting very slowly on boring pitches was pretty much England's mission statement, along with "pretending to like Kevin for the good of the nation".

But to raise the problem of flat pitches just hours after England have had a bad day in the field sounds suspiciously like boring old bias, or even more unforgivably, like independent journalists acting as the PR department of Team England.

With delicious inevitability, a stiff dose of karmic justice followed in the unlikely shape of Ishant "Just short of just short of a good length" Sharma, who somehow managed to reduce England to 172 for 4 and leave them contemplating a three-figure first-innings deficit by the end of day three, thus illustrating one of cricket's golden rules: never whinge about the flatness of the pitch until you've had a bat on it.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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