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George Dobell at Edgbaston
May 13, 2011
Worcestershire 228 and 36 for 3 v Warwickshire 382 and 173 for 8 dec
Warwickshire have been penalised eight points after an ECB Pitch Panel deemed the pitch at Edgbaston for the Championship match against Worcestershire to be "poor."
The panel, chaired by former Sussex and England seamer Tony Pigott, cited "excessive uneven bounce" as the main problem. Warwickshire could have been penalised 24 points had the panel found the pitch to be 'unfit.'
With Vikram Solanki taken to hospital after sustaining a fearful blow on the head and numerous other stoppages as batsmen took painful blows on the body, this game has been reduced to a farcical state by a pitch unsuited to professional cricket.
Some will argue that conditions are not that bad. And it's true, no doubt, that there were far more testing tracks in the days of uncovered pitches and helmetless batsmen. It may also be true that the techniques of modern batsmen are not what they once were. But make no mistake: this is an unusually poor pitch; certainly the worst that this writer has witnessed. The sight of a ball taking off from a length and clearing the wicket-keepers' head by ten feet, as has happened here, is very rare.
How has this happened? Well, the pitch was far too dry at the start. As a result, there were cracks in the surface that have widened as the match progressed. Any ball hitting them could rear or scuttle without any apparent pattern. Just about every batsman has sustained a blow at some stage and it is only due to good fortune and the excellence of modern protective equipment, that no-one has suffered a serious injury.
Warwickshire had various factors to use in mitigation. They have just installed, on the insistence of the ECB, a new drainage system and new sand-based outfield to speed the drying process. They have also just built an enormous new stand. All these things, they argue, have changed conditions at the ground and altered the drying process. As a result, the groundstaff have misjudged the amount of watering required and the allowed the pitch to become too dry.
Lessons will have been learned. There's no reason to suggest there should be a problem by the time the Test against India begins here in August.
That, Warwickshire say, is quite different to a director of cricket requesting a bowler-friendly track to aid his side. They also point out that there have been many games with lower scores and many games finishing in fewer overs.
The shame of the pitch debacle is that it will detract attention from a quite outstanding debut from Chris Metters. Only one of Metters' six wickets - the one he took from his first ball of the third day - was due to the poor wicket (Alan Richardson was powerless to withdraw his bat from one that spat and took the edge), with the other five the result of an immaculate line and length and a probing style that will bring him many more victims. He already has the best Championship innings analysis in the history of a Warwickshire man making his first-class debut. And, when he bowls in the second innings, he will be on a hat-trick.
Perhaps, however, the pitch problem might highlight the excellence of Mohammad Yousuf's contribution. He has been quite outstanding in this game. Yes, this Worcestershire attack is modest, but on this pitch, his first innings century and his second innings of 68 were almost unbelievably high scores.
This game will be remembered more, however, for the sight of a highly-skilled, highly-experienced batsman clutching his head after ducking into a short-ball from Boyd Rankin. In truth, Solanki did not play the delivery terribly well, turning his head on the ball, and taking the blow just below the ear in an area unprotected by his helmet. The ball may well not have misbehaved, either, but Solanki was, understandably, reluctant to trust the capricious pitch and failed to commit to the shot he might have played in other circumstances. Thankfully, X-rays showed no serious injury and Solanki returned to the ground in the evening. He should be able to bat on the final day.
Meanwhile Naqaash Tahir claimed three for eight in eight overs to suggest Worcestershire will get nowhere near their target of 328 to win. Tahir saw one take off and catch the edge of the helpless James Cameron's bat, before Matt Pardoe was beaten by one that kept low and Alexei Kervezee was punished for planting his front foot by one that swung back into him. Had rain not robbed almost a session from the day, the match might well have finished on the third day. As it is, they resume on day four needing another 292 to win.
Earlier Warwickshire declined to enforce the follow-on after Metters struck with the first delivery of the day. Instead, they extended their advantage to 327, with Yousuf again producing a masterclass of batsmanship.
He had some fortune, however. No batsman, not Sobers or Bradman or Tendulkar, could have played the delivery that spat from a length and took the shoulder of Jonathan Trott's bat, or indeed, the one that reared and took the edge of Varun Chopra's bat to give Damien Wright his 400th first-class victim.
Yousuf was simply fortunate enough not to receive such a ball. He did, however, take a horrid blow in the chest from one that nipped back, while Rikki Clarke fell to a tentative prod two balls after receiving one that cut back sharply and struck him in the body. Ian Bell prodded a return catch after receiving one that stopped on him.
Trott, it should be noted, has now had four Championship innings and received three unplayable balls and a poor umpiring decision. Not perfect preparation for a Test series, is it?
Ominously for Warwickshire, the Pitch Liaison Officers were ordered to take a stricter approach this year. But, it is worth noting that the umpires did not report this pitch. Instead, the ECB acted on the enquiry of a newspaper journalist covering the game and sent the PLOs as a consequence. Quite why the umpires didn't report some concerns about the surface is hard to say.
It's believed to be more than 20 years since a Test ground was penalised for a sub-standard first-class pitch (Trent Bridge were penalised 25 points in 1989). It's not the sort of history the new Edgbaston wanted to make.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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