India in England 2014 July 1, 2014

Surface tension misplaced

Conspiracy theorists may like to imagine the ECB plotting India's downfall by demanding seam-friendly surfaces but the truth is that the tourists have little to fear

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When India and England met in the final of the Champions Trophy at Edgbaston in June last year, the casual observer might have expected home advantage to play a key role.

It was not so. Instead, with the groundsman not allowed to water due to ICC regulations, conditions favoured India, with a dry, dusty pitch offering assistance to spin bowlers and minimising the effectiveness of England's seamers. It could have been Ahmedabad.

It may well prove a similar story in the Test series this English summer. While conspiracy theorists like to imagine the powerbrokers of English cricket gathered in smoke-filled rooms plotting the downfall of the tourists, the truth is that, even if everyone involved could agree on the sort of pitch that suited them best, there is some doubt as to whether they could produce it.

Most would agree that England's best hope of success might well be to produce lively, seaming wickets offering bounce and pace to the faster bowlers. They might also prefer not to provide much assistance to spinners.

But such wickets are becoming hard to find in England. While there may be more pace, movement and bounce than is seen in India, there should be nothing to fear, with the pitches almost universally offering conditions that will favour batsmen.

There are two major reasons for this. The first is that, with many of the grounds in England having recently redeveloped at great expense, they are desperate for Tests to last at least four and preferably five days.

Several of these grounds are heavily in debt. They have had to fight to host these games - grounds as well-established as Edgbaston have missed out - and, with the competition to stage Test cricket growing by the year, they have to maximise the benefits.

So even if the England management demand seam-friendly conditions, the grounds - and the groundsmen employed by the individual counties - will be understandably reluctant to prepare a surface that could bring about a three-day result and squander the chance of two days of ticket sales.

Consider, for example, the recent Lord's Test against Sri Lanka. Staged in early June - six weeks before the Test against India - it was low, slow and encouraged little other than attritional cricket. There was little home advantage.

Even if the England management could convince the counties to provide the pitches they require, though, there is some doubt whether they could do so successfully.

In the last few years, all the major grounds have installed new drainage systems. This has been, to some extent, a great success: the time spent off the pitch after rain has been reduced greatly and the unsatisfactory days when full grounds had to wait in fine weather for grass to dry have all but gone.

But there were unforeseen consequences. So quickly does the water drain, that it has become very difficult to retain any moisture in the pitch. While groundsmen can leave more grass on the wicket, there is little evidence to suggest they have found a way to prepare pitches that will remain lively throughout a Test. As a result, the surfaces may offer most assistance on the first day and could even convince England, with their relatively modest spin attack, to consider inserting India on occasions if they win the toss.

In the last few seasons, the counties have experimented with the use - or absence - of the heavy roller. Heavily rolled pitches tended to die and produce relatively unedifying cricket, whereas the entertainment value of games where the heavy roller was outlawed increased. It was eventually concluded, however, that unrolled surfaces provided too much assistance to the bowlers and, in Test cricket, the heavy roller will continue to crush the life out of pitches.

Atmospheric conditions may still prove a factor and there will be days, no doubt, when the ball swings. But this is an inexperienced England batting line-up - greener than any pitch - with an opening batsman as captain who is currently struggling for form. They are unlikely to risk exposing Alastair Cook's side to anything that will risk prolonging his grim run. India, in bringing six quicks plus a seam-bowling allrounder, will not rely solely on spin to trouble England.

The days when international pitches in England offered excessive bounce and movement are largely gone. Conditions will, of course, vary from the subcontinent. But, this time, India have little to fear from England's pitches.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tim on July 4, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    @vkias: I still remember some of your previous comments. First you were licking your lips to see SL losing the Asia cup! Then you were waiting till SL loses the T20 wc! Then you expected SL to fail in England!! Now your are trying to get some relief thinking that SL will lose in the future in your fantasy world by trying to prove young players are not performing! The truth is SL got one of the best bowling attacks in the world. Young bowlers are performing and Vass is guiding them nicely.Angelo has been a great captain and one of the best all-rounders going! Thirimanne failed in England. But performed well in the past. If you compare the starts Marvan or Sanga got Thirimanne has performed twice as much as them. Ashan has played well with whatever the chances he got! Silva has been a good test opener, Sachithra has been a great one day/T20 bowler. SL Coaches, Sanath/Hashan as selectors are doing a great job!! But try to forget all good things with SL cricket if it gives you heart pains!

  • Sheethal on July 4, 2014, 5:17 GMT

    @ Flat_Trac_Bally Sl bowlers did well, but i was referring to SL batting on flat decks in the recent Sl-Eng series.....In fact SL was bit lucky to get FLAT decks in Eng!! When Ind won the series in Eng in 2007, Zak(took 18 wickets) & RP singh did really well....Hope, BK & Shami can do the same this time around!!!

  • Monoz on July 4, 2014, 4:19 GMT

    This ordinary lot of Ind bowlers even couldn't get the wickets of Div 2 second bottom team who couldn't get past 200 more than 5 times in the tournament.

  • Monoz on July 4, 2014, 4:16 GMT

    @ITJOBSUCKS : That means the fast bowlers are good if they could get wickets even in the flat decks . That is what Ind is lacking and SL was successful in recently concluded Eng tour.

  • Dummy4 on July 3, 2014, 20:25 GMT

    Prabhakar Muthukrishnan - What matter is the end results, in 2014 Sri Lanka team performed extremely well, end of the day it will be tough for Indian batsmen against quality English bowling attack and India lack good fast bowlers as well, in the entire world apart from BD India is the only team that produce useless fast bowlers, even youre bowling coach Prasad got smashed all over the park by Sanath in 90's

  • Dummy4 on July 3, 2014, 19:44 GMT

    Both teams have good pace bowllers but india have bit better batting side...

  • Android on July 3, 2014, 17:12 GMT

    i think indian bowling lacks the bite for taking 20 wickets even if the grounds are helpful to the spinners ... ashwin as the record and his form suggest can not take more the a few wickets in a test

  • Sajith on July 3, 2014, 15:24 GMT

    @vikias lets hope so mate... About that comment, its a correct analysis by a Sri Lankan fan and half of it(about MJ and KS) still worries me...But the other half solved in last 2 tests, isn't it.. And remarkable thing I found is the same problems arose over last two decades over who is to replace, Aravinda, Arjuna, Murali, Sanath, Vaas, etc.. Are their indian players to replace Dravid, Sachin... Truth is no body can replace great players.. Players step up and fill the gaps and sometimes become great players.. Yes Sanga played many tests but only because he is good for that... If sachins performance hasn't started to get low wouldn't you guys have him in the team.. History cannot be changed, guesses are for weak, excuses are for losers, only the present matters.. This is a fair test for both teams, same foreign conditions, same opposition team, same time... Lets see who can do better...

  • Sajith on July 3, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    @Prabhakar How are you going to decide which is the better side? Past glories/ Individual Performance/ speed of fast bowlers/ deviation of spinners/ hundreds scored by batsmen/ wickets taken by bowlers etc... Mate, if that is so, please say your team to come home because England are far ahead than your team in those areas..But thats wrong.. India have a chance to win if they can work as a team, with a good fighting spirit and will to go on..Those are the things bought Sri Lankans victory.. Luck may play a bit..But remember fortune favors the brave, luck smiles more on people who work harder..If pradeep had given up hope we would have lose, if Eranga had given up we wouldn't have won.

  • Sajith on July 3, 2014, 14:21 GMT

    @Prabhakar Muthukrishnan lot of guesses and if clauses man... Lucky is a suspected word in cricket..Lucky to win, lucky not to lose, lucky to have century, Lucky to take wickets... Sri Lanka was lucky enough to win 1996 world cup, lucky enough to be in 3 ICC WC finals, lucky enough to be in 3 t20 finals and win one.. Lucky is usually a word some people to describe things that they does not like..One can say we are lucky to even live because who knows we could have died somewhere..You guys always find something to blame. Remarkably how many of you guys said India lost t20 WC because of Yuvi .. But we don't say we lost 2011 WC because of kulasekaras catch (some may have whispered it). Why? Its in how we see our teams, for you guys your team is a team(just a team) of cricketing super stars or gods, for us our team is a great team of good cricketers (but very human)..The difference is we are not worshiping them but we are always with them..Did you stayed with yuvi after t20 final?