February 26, 2008

Who will rule the rulers?

Why should cricket's administrators get away scot-free for the travesties of Antigua and Karachi?

Over at last: Younis Khan's marathon comes to an end in Karachi © AFP

Barely had Test cricket returned to Pakistan than it endured the foulest of assaults. It would have been fitting if Pakistan had gone on batting all day, because the Test deserved to be remembered for the spurious meaninglessness that it engendered for four-and-a-half days. Five wickets in the last three hours infused a measure of drama that was so artificial that it was embarrassing to watch.

The truth is that cricket lovers in Pakistan, and indeed all over the world, were subjected to a match that defiled the very concept of sport. It couldn't be called a contest and it was unbearable to watch. If Test cricket were a human being, what went on in Karachi would have amounted to culpable homicide.

It was the second time in the space of 12 days that the game has been shamed. With hindsight, it was a mercy that the match in Antigua lasted only 10 balls. The one in Karachi went on and on, robbing the term "Test" of every strand of credibility and dignity; it was only a test of the patience and loyalty of cricket's most vital constituent, the spectator.

It is said that pitch preparation isn't an exact science and even the best efforts are not guaranteed to produce a good pitch. But draining every of ounce of life out of a pitch requires no special effort and it would seem the Pakistani curators have been specialising in the art. The Karachi pitch was not an aberration after all: it was merely an extreme manifestation of what has been the norm.

Let's tell the story in numbers. In the nine Tests played in Pakistan since 2006, 11,754 runs have been scored for the loss of 249 wickets, which returns an average of 47.20 per wicket. A simplistic calculation will make that an average of 470 runs per innings. The corresponding overall world average in that period stands at 34.73. In comparison, India, equally famous for its hospitality towards batsman, produces an average of 38.93, marginally ahead of Australia's 37.62. New Zealand comes across as the most bowler-friendly, with an average of 28.43, and South Africa is marginally behind at 29.03.

If the Test just concluded in Karachi felt insufferable, try this one at the beginning of 2006. Batting first in Lahore, Pakistan ran up a score of 679 for 7 at 4.73 runs per over, with Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan adding 319 runs in 65 overs. India responded with an opening partnership of 410 between VIrender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid at 5.3 runs per over. The misery of this runfest was only curtailed by bad weather, but there was no respite in the next match, in Faisalabad, with the scores reading Pakistan 588 and 490 for 8, India 603 and 21 for no loss. All these totals were finally put into context by the greenish pitch in Karachi, in a match India went to lose by 341 runs after they had Pakistan at 0 for 3 in the first over.

A triple century is a remarkable feat on any kind of wicket. Taken in isolation, Younis' performance is a stirring story. Pakistan were playing their first Test in 16 months; he had just been appointed captain with the specific brief to play saviour; and his team needed to score 444 just to avoid the follow-on. But because two double-hundreds preceded his innings and a 158 came afterwards, it will be a knock remembered mainly for its endurance and not for skill. And it's hard to imagine Kamran Akmal enjoying his 158, of which 98 came against the terrifying combination of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tharanga Paranavitana and Malinda Warnapura.

Administrators rarely lose the opportunity these days to present cricket as business. But it is unimaginable that in the corporate world an event as calamitous as the abandonment of a Test match due to administrative negligence would have been allowed to pass without punishment

Sehwag, the scorer of two triple-hundreds, recently chose his 201 against Sri Lanka in Galle as his best innings. His explanation was typically candid and shorn of pretence to modesty: never during his triple-hundreds, scored in Multan against Pakistan and in Chennai against South Africa, he had felt that the bowlers could get him out. In Galle, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis posed challenges every over, and only one other Indian batsman managed to go past 50. Cricketers know when they have earned their runs or wickets.

Of course, lessons are unlikely to be learnt from cricket's latest debacles. That's simply because it is unlikely there will be any repercussions. Unlike players, cricket administrators are rarely held to account. Giles Clarke, who was confirmed the ECB's chairman amidst calls for his resignation over his board's dalliance with Allen Stanford, claimed blithely to have received 9000 emails urging him to stay on and save English cricket. Twelve days after a Test was abandoned in Antigua because the custodians of a cricket stadium could not tell a beach from a playing field, the executive committee of the ICC came to the perceptive conclusion that "the responsibility for ensuring the delivery of a venue fit for the purpose of international cricket rested with the host Member board".

Administrators rarely lose the opportunity these days to present cricket as business. But it is unimaginable that in the corporate world an event as calamitous as the abandonment of a Test match due to administrative negligence would have been allowed to pass without punishment.

Players are, rightly, dropped because of non-performance. They are also fined and suspended for misconduct on the field. Batsmen are penalised for lingering on after being given out - even if wrongly so. Some of these transgressions are deemed to bring the game into disrepute. It is staggering that this code of conduct shouldn't apply to those who govern the game. Nothing has brought the game more disrepute in recent times than the events in Antigua and the mockery of a Test in Karachi.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Who on February 28, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    with only 10 wickets down for @900 runs in 8 sessions of play, I can't wait to read another "travesty" cry from Mr. Bal...... but wait... he may only write anther article if he is assured that he going to getting similar reaction from West Indian fans as he did from us Pakistani fans!

    Can't wait for Sri Lanka and South Africa's series in India next season for test match and see what kind of pitches BCCI prepares and Mr. Bal's totally "unbiased" opinion about them!

  • Junoir on February 28, 2009, 17:19 GMT

    1. To the person(s) criticizing the pitch on which Lara scored 375 and 400, please remember that it was on that same pitch, australia were bowled out for 240 (as well as WI) in a test match, West Indies and England played a very competitive test match recently where england needed one wicket in the final 10 overs to win da match

    My point is, antigua's pitch is flat..yes..but that in no way takes away the excitement of the game

    Other flat pitches make test cricket seem boring since they are one-sided run-fest matches and do not have a crowd to enjoy the match

  • M on February 28, 2009, 14:06 GMT

    Just a point for Arsh: Go and have a look where Afridi has scored his hundreds - only 2 out of his 5 were in Pakistan and one of his best was in India. Doesnt say much about Australian wickets if Gillespie scored a double???? - i am surprised at the measures and analogies people use to defend their arguments!

  • Hanzaq on February 28, 2009, 12:53 GMT

    As a Pakistani (origin) living in England I can safely say that for the 5 days which Pakistan played Sri Lanka everyone I know watched the game, everyday, never complained about the wicket, in fact they complained about the Pakistani bowling, aggressive fielding tactics, etc. we were too Happy that Test cricket in Pakistan was being played, it's sad reading an article like this, no praise to Pakistan for hosting a game, no praise for Sri Lanka for being the only level headed country realising playing cricket in Pakistan IS SAFE, no praise to Younis Khan on his mammoth effort in his first game as captain!

    Me and my friends in Leeds and Bradford in England kept meeting, for the first 2 days we gave "Mubarak" ("Congrats") for getting smashed for 650 runs in 1 1/2 days...then for the next 3 days we gave "Mubarak" for saving the test match....we loved it, we're Pakistani, we have the right to cricket and anyone denying this right because of the PITCH should hang his head in shame....

  • Z on February 28, 2009, 7:46 GMT

    Ist test was just a practice for Pakistani team as it was coming in test cricket after a long time. I hope pitch in lahore would be fine and Pakistani team is likely to perform nicely there.

  • Fahad on February 28, 2009, 6:50 GMT

    Everyone can also post their comments to FACEBOOK CRICINFO Discussion Board. We demand an apology from Sambit Bal for discrediting Pakistani Team for their efforts of 700 runs and 5 Sri Lankan wickets in 2 hours and also calling it an humiliation to Cricket. This biasing in CricInfo Writing by Indian Editor towards Pakistan has brought disappointment to Pakistani Fans and we demand an apology from Sambit Bal. Here is the link of facebook community.


  • K. on February 28, 2009, 5:50 GMT

    Just a couple of points: 1)Yes, practically all triple hundreds require dead tracks. Both The lara triple plus scores were on tracks where some 5 wickets fell in 3 days during the WI innings.But then it was the great brian lara, so noone said a word about the pathetic ground.Both the very small size and the extremely dead pitch, completely unfit an absolute insult to international bowlers.As a school ground too it would barely pass muster. Just because lara has a higher backlift and more strokes than a younis,jayawerdene etc doesnt make such a farce anymore exciting for any true cricket fans. 2)Having said that,as several people have mentioned no less a person than the great WASIM AKRAM has expressed similar views.So,it follows that all the hyper agitated pakistani comments in here apply equally to Wasim's comments as well.Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

  • p on February 28, 2009, 3:47 GMT

    Oh, just one more thing. Will all the sensible,rational people using the word "vitriol" in here please STOP doing so?! I can just imagine certain folks scurrying around for their dictionaries wondering what's going on! Please use words like "irrational","rubbish",etc. Or perhaps just some urdu will do.

  • Dan on February 28, 2009, 3:27 GMT

    Note to Vkarthik : Has India never produced a flat wicket in the history of test cricket?? They've probably produced the most flat tracks in the history of the game. India's strength for many years has been its batting so they have to produce flat tracks to accomodate their batsmen. India has never been able to produce any genuine quality pace bolwers due to these flat tracks - this was even pointed out by Waqar Younis a few years ago. And your example of Kanpur is probably the dumbest I have heard. You talk of the tailender Sreesanth like hes some sort Lara or Ponting. The fact that a tailender batted for over an hour doesnt prove anything. Even Jason Gillespie scored a double century once!!! And the Kanpur match was over in THREE days so I dont think you can descibe that as a "good" pitch. All Im going to say is COME ON NEW ZEALAND, won both 20/20's..... Enough said :)

  • Arshdeep on February 28, 2009, 1:07 GMT

    He says it right.. Pakistan has produced poor wickets over the past 5 years. Makes for poor viewing. No wonder incompetent players like afridi are able to score tons.

  • No featured comments at the moment.