NatWest T20 Blast June 26, 2014

Poor pitches killing English T20

More than match-fixing, chucking or the absence of cricket from free-to-air television, poor pitches will destroy cricket and turn away spectators from the English game

"Take me to Lord's to see someone I've never heard of, nurdle someone else I've never heard of off their legs for a single," is an expression no child has ever uttered.

The NatWest T20 Blast is not for the purist. It is not about subtlety. It is not, really, even about winning. It is about attracting new spectators to the game. It was re-launched only a few weeks ago to double - yes, double - attendances over the next three or four years.

So it is essential it contains the biggest names, boundary hitting and fast bowling to appeal to those who are left untouched by longer forms of the game. It is essential it provides fast-moving, attractive, entertainment.

So it was a shame that, on the day it became clear that the ECB were not going to honour their commitment to back the re-launched competition by making England players available, that the pitch at Lord's for Middlesex's match against Gloucestershire should provide so little chance of entertainment to a crowd of 14,000.

Dry, cracked and uneven, it provided too much assistance for the bowlers and produced cagey cricket lacking the big hitting or eye-catching bowling that could sell the game to a new audience. It was like going to watch The Rolling Stones play their greatest hits and instead find them experimenting with an evening of Belgian jazz.

Matches like this present a chance to appeal to a new audience; a chance to inspire new supporters and new players. With very little cricket available on free-to-air TV, it is the shop window for our game.

But, all too often, the English game is self-harming with this sort of surface. A surface lacking the pace and bounce to encourage attractive cricket. A surface encouraging canny medium-pacers and dart-like spinners. A surface that creates boring cricket.

All too often, new spectators will taste the game once and never return.

And it may well get worse. Pitches for the 50-over competition later in the season may well be even more tired and dry. They will offer even more wretched entertainment. They will damage cricket even more.

It is not entirely the groundsmen's fault. They are obliged to prepare so many pitches during the course of a season that they simply run out of space. They have no choice but to re-use wickets, particularly when the requirements of broadcasters insist that games are played towards the centre of the square.

The new drainage installed at grounds around the country might be relevant, too. There is increasing evidence to suggest that groundsmen are simply unable to retain moisture in pitches and, as a consequence, there is a lack of pace and more assistance to spin than might be required. It is a factor that might become increasingly relevant in the Investec Test series against India.

In the longer-term the ECB are likely to consider centrally-contracted groundsmen. Then they can demand pitches for the benefit of the national game as a whole, not just the home county. But the ECB will also have to fund groundsmen adequately to ensure they have the required resources. This is too important an area of the game to skimp.

Pitches like this will kill the game. More than match-fixing, chucking or the absence of cricket from free-to-air television, poor pitches will destroy the product and turn away spectators. The game has to do better and for Lord's, the home of cricket, to provide such a surface for such an encounter, is bitterly disappointing.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on June 28, 2014, 8:44 GMT

    I see this article is using the 'evidence' of one rain interrupted match to push an agenda. I have seen some high scoring games this year where only quality spin or death bowling contained the batsmen. Additionally the writer would do well to admit 'dart' like spin bowling and medium pace are used in all T20 leagues with some degree of success. A lot of the spinners in the IPL would toil away with limited success in four day division one cricket in England.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2014, 18:42 GMT

    @look-ma-i-am-indian Wow... Just WOW. England had silly name teams playing white ball T20 several years before India (who initially were more than a little disdainful of the format - until they won the first world T20). IPL was not the first, it is a copy of the English format (The IPL does it a lot better to be sure) but a copy all the same. T20 is an English game first played in 2003. I saw one of the first round matches in 2003. Matt Mason bowling to Mike Hussey. Worcestershire v Northants June 2003. I was there

  • Jason on June 27, 2014, 15:41 GMT

    @Arty Brushman, they have its called Astroturf unfortunately its all too predictable that's where the beauty is in turf wickets, they are unpredictable as they are so unique, even pitches on the same square can be subtly different.

  • Jake on June 27, 2014, 15:40 GMT

    I don't think it's a problem with pitches, it's just a sterile form of the game. However you dress it up it is artificial and contrived and leaves you feeling empty. I have been to about ten Natwest T20 Blast games in recent years and I honestly can't remember anything about any of the games, apart from the fish and chips. Having big names definitely helps, but they too are at the mercy of the format and it often demeans them. For example at the Oval last week Hashim Amla was not one of the world's best batsmen, he was just another guy trying to hit medium pacers into the crowd.

  • Dummy4 on June 27, 2014, 13:15 GMT

    in this day and age you woukd have thought someone would have come up with a synthetic surface that gives an even balance between batsmen and bowlers

  • mohammed on June 27, 2014, 12:31 GMT

    "this is what happens when other cricket boards try to copy IPL. they should realize they just can't do it."

    Oh really!! Any IPL superstars like Maxwell,Pollard or anyone else been a huge hit in T20 in England? NO because they flat track bullys bullying medium pacers on dead tracks in India or UAE.

    Want to see real talent? Have a lok at Latham, Williamson, Braithwaite, Moeen Ali,getting hundreds in tense and tough situations.

  • Leslie on June 27, 2014, 11:38 GMT

    nursery_ender: ECB might have started t20 - but in terms of creating an entertainment product, they are now copying the IPL. Sadly, with no fans, talent or money, it's an extremely poor man's version. And spread over a ridiculous time frame. And equally derided by the establishment that was meant to support it. Just another sign of the malaise in English cricket right now. I would also argue that whilst pitches are of course very important, having a bunch of 'nobodys' lob 70mph 'fast' balls at another bunch of 'nobodys' is never going to make exciting cricket, regardless of the pitch.

  • Tom on June 27, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    Posted by look-ma-i-am-indian on (June 27, 2014, 9:42 GMT) this is what happens when other cricket boards try to copy IPL. they should realize they just can't do it.

    Err the English T20 started long before the IPL. Who copied whom?

  • Richard on June 27, 2014, 10:29 GMT

    One free to air domestic T20 game on Friday nights plus a highlights package would do wonders for it's profile. I've no idea what the batsman is doing in that photo though :)

  • Adam on June 27, 2014, 9:59 GMT

    If the domestic T20 were shown on domestic Tv, it would soon become must-watch Friday night viewing for cricket fans and young families. People would start to form allegiances for certain teams and players, would get to understand and appreciate the nuances of the game, and be willing to travel to watch the matches live.

    However, as long as its on sky with virtually no-one watching, it will continue to be a second rate minority sport.

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