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In an era that is hell-bent on spoiling its batsmen, pitches that offer bowlers some help are not necessarily a bad thing
October 2, 2011
The Champions League Twenty20 is doing its darnedest best to debunk the most enduring of all Twenty20 myths: that the format is about flat tracks, ugly slogs, fours and sixes, and hapless bowlers. After another low-scoring game ebbed and flowed before New South Wales took control, it is perhaps time to revisit conventional wisdom on just what variety of pitch contributes to a good game of Twenty20 cricket.
By all accounts, this was a very good contest, though it ended with three overs to spare. With a measly 100 runs to defend, Mumbai Indians had blasted out the NSW top order, and were closing in on the lower middle order with intent. Harbhajan Singh had pressed slip, leg slip and silly point into service, but he had to hold the boundary-riders back. He needed wickets, but couldn't afford to concede boundaries. This wasn't slam-bang cricket - this was a round of chess in the rapid format, and it was intriguing while it lasted.
Steven Smith and Ben Rohrer responded to Harbhajan's gambit with a series of soft nudges for singles - ten on the trot at one point - on a pitch so sluggish it made grafting an ordeal. The challenge was accentuated by the fact that top-class fielders like Kieron Pollard and R Sathish were prowling inside the circle. Smith and Rohrer persevered, and took it to 44 needed off 48 balls.
Smith, who at one point had been on 1 off 14 balls, chose that moment to produce the only six of the game - and the stroke he played wouldn't have been out of place in an attritional passage of Test cricket. He skipped down the pitch to Yuzvendra Chahal, got to the flight, thereby negating the lack of pace and bounce, and whipped with a flourish over midwicket. It was a loaded stroke, and it came off. So telling was the blow, coming on the back of a bunch of clever singles, that, as if by magic, Mumbai Indians' intent dissolved.
"There was a pretty big gap at midwicket, and Chahal was bowling a few little back-spinners," Smith explained after the game. "So I thought if I got it in the right spot there was a chance to get a boundary away and change the momentum of the game.
"It was pretty tough at the start; they bowled well at the top there. I thought if I gave myself a chance to build my innings and work it around, and if I was there at the end, it would give us the chance of getting home."
James Franklin had played a similar role to the one Smith did earlier in the day: picking up the pieces after the Mumbai Indians top order had chucked their wickets away, on what he termed "a real grafting wicket".
"It was always a case of us trying to get a decent score [after those wickets]," Franklin said. "If we had got to 130, it would have made things interesting. Our bowlers gave us a chance of winning, but Smith and Rohrer batted outstandingly; they had lots of time, took minimal risks and got themselves through."
Simon Katich later panned the wicket, singling out the low bounce for particularly harsh criticism. But the fact remains there was nothing in it to justify a combined effort of 201 for 12 in 37 overs. It wasn't a wicket for bull-headed slogging, as Pollard found when he attempted the ugliest of heaves against Patrick Cummins. It wasn't a wicket for indifferent footwork, as Symonds found when he wandered out of the crease and missed a lash against Steve O'Keefe. It had a little bit in it for every kind of bowler - grip and cut for Stuart Clark, slow turn for O'Keefe, and zip for Abu Nechim. All it asked from batsmen was a little bit of patience. In an era that is hell-bent on spoiling its batsmen, pitches like this are not necessarily a bad thing.
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