India v Sri Lanka, 1st Test November 20, 2009

Dead pitches killing Tests in India

Why mouth platitudes about the sanctity of Test cricket when matches are played on pitches designed to drag the game off to the post-mortem table?

Why aim for dominance when you can have somnolence? Why bother supporting the idea of a Test championship when you're doing your best to kill off the oldest form of the game? Why mouth platitudes about the sanctity of Test cricket when matches are played out in front of paltry crowds on pitches designed to drag the game off to the post-mortem table?

Comparisons may be odious at times, but in certain cases they're extremely instructive. Consider this. Over the past five years, 27 Tests have been played in Australia. Only two have been drawn. In South Africa, only three of 29 games did not end decisively. In that same period, Sri Lanka have hosted 22 games. Only four have gone the distance. And India? Ahmedabad was the 24th match in the last 60 months, and the 11th to end in a draw.

There's nothing quite as unique, or as nailbiting, as the exciting draw. The Oval, 1979, Old Trafford, 2005 and Cardiff, 2009 will never be forgotten. In the first instance, all four results were possible heading into the final over. Sadly for the Indian cricket fan, though, some of these 11 draws have been among the worst games ever played, mindless batting exhibitions on surfaces where the bowlers were neutered the moment the new ball lost its shine.

Back in 2004, Green Park in Kanpur, which has a reputation for dire games, hosted South Africa. After Andrew Hall sleepwalked his way to 163 in 588 minutes, India, with the exception of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, went on a go-slow of their own. By the time the match was called off, those that did bother to turn up were probably wishing they were Rip van Winkle.

The nadir was reached when Pakistan toured India in 2007. After an exciting and low-scoring opening Test at the Kotla in New Delhi, Eden Gardens and the Chinnaswamy Stadium hosted games where mountains of runs were scored and the bowlers were flogged mercilessly. Anil Kumble injected some excitement into his home Test by bowling seam-up, but that apart, those were two matches that brought back awful memories of the years when India-Pakistan games meant safety-first tactics on featherbeds and two sides paralysed by fear of defeat.

A unique hat-trick of deplorable pitches was completed in Chennai a few months later, as Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla and Sehwag booked in for bed, breakfast and then some. Sehwag scored the fastest triple-century ever, but even when the teams mercifully shook hands on the final day, the pitch looked good enough to last another week.

Who then do we blame for these appalling surfaces, these games of batting practice? Dhiraj Parsana will be used for target-practice after this, but how much independence do India's curators really have? It's not as though Ahmedabad can't produce decent pitches. There was a generous smattering of grass 18 months ago when India were routed for 76 on the first morning, but South Africa, with AB de Villiers scoring a double-century, still managed a huge total in a three-day finish.

When Sri Lanka last toured, the game went to the last morning. There was a superb century from VVS Laxman, and wickets for both pace bowlers and spinners. Mystifyingly though, Clive Lloyd, the ICC's match referee, complained about the surface to his bosses, reinforcing the view that there's a deep-rooted prejudice against spin-friendly pitches.

The ICC, though, can only issue guidelines. It's the home board that's responsible for pitch preparation. The BCCI has a television deal that's on the basis of days of coverage. The broadcaster doesn't shell out for a certain number of series, it pays for a fixed number of days. Three-day finishes like the one in Mumbai in 2004, or the Kanpur game last year, are terrific entertainment for fans but not good news for the TV companies. To ensure that they don't frown, the paying public has to put up with snore draws.

Over the past five years, 27 Tests have been played in Australia. Only two have been drawn. In South Africa, only three of 29 games did not end decisively. In that same period, Sri Lanka have hosted 22 games. Only four have gone the distance. And India? Ahmedabad was the 24th match in the last 60 months, and the 11th to end in a draw

There's nothing wrong with a surface being batsman-friendly initially, as long as it deteriorates over the course of a game. There have been some great finishes in Chennai (the Tied Test and 2001 were ones for the pantheon) and elsewhere, but at the Motera on Friday, you had to endure the pathetic sight of the game's leading wicket-taker, Muttiah Muralitharan, being reduced to trundler status. The bowlers' footmarks aside, there was barely an indentation on the pitch. It might as well have been marble from the quarries in Rajasthan.

Comments about declining Test-match crowds in India often ignore reality. People talk of the good old days when thousands turned up to watch drab draws all across the country. The England series of 1981-82 was especially devoid of excitement. But back then, entertainment options were few and far between. Most towns didn't even have access to television. You took what you got.

Now, with cable TV bringing every kind of international sport into your living room, why would you stomach mediocrity? When different kinds of entertainment are on offer, why drag yourself to a stadium to watch eight wickets fall in three days, and not one of them to an especially good delivery?

Whenever the IPL, which has the board's blessing, introduces a new innovation or an expansion to 10 teams and 94 games, we hear the word "entertainment". A few days ago, someone involved with marketing the league appeared on TV and announced that cricket had now become "prostitution". If that individual was speaking on behalf of the establishment, then it should surprise no one that Test cricket is being treated like a two-dollar hook-up in a dingy room with a lone lightbulb.

This is a series where the No. 1 ranking is at stake. You'd think that results mattered. But while Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka leave little to chance as they pursue that ambition, India are content with being world leaders: at signing TV deals and producing bog-standard pitches.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pankaj on November 24, 2009, 18:28 GMT

    @Grind1NSW1into1dirt: You are another commentator that gets on my never. Alex and yourself should launch a Sachin bashing website. It'd be good for you and a lot of good for us. So, out of 19 100s that Sachin hit, you want to take away 15? So, a guy capable of hitting 24 100s around the world is good for only 4 100s at home???

  • Pankaj on November 24, 2009, 18:18 GMT

    @Alexk400 - Are you out of your mind? Sangakara could've offered a draw but Tendulkar would've just said a plain "NO". Why the need to beg? And Sangakara need not have addressed Tendulkar's begging. He could've just asked his bowlers to pluck Tendulkar's wicket. Why would Tendulkar score first 80 runs and beg for the last 20?

  • Luke on November 24, 2009, 1:27 GMT

    Well said, Dileep; very brave too. It's not only in India but West Indies as well. An odd pitch here or there that acts as a road is excusable but when a whole series is dominated by them test cricket suffers. It always has to be a fair balance between bat and ball. It could be said that any particular country has certain style pitches - this is fine. When you go to NZ you know pitches will be greener and often teams winning the toss field first. India will have slower pitches that attract turn - again this is fair. But this element of local conditions has always promoted the best rising to the occasion. A good batsman can make a ton on a raging turner or green deck, and likewise a bowler can extract extra bounce or movement on the Adelaide Oval. But when you create pitches that could last for weeks and give bowlers absolutely nothing on the 5th day something is very wrong.

  • Garry on November 23, 2009, 2:32 GMT

    As far as I can see India is ruining Test Cricket. They have been the ones creating batting paradises for years, especially when SR Tendulkar has been playing. It is quite obvious what India are up to in that regard. I reckon you can minus at leat 15 Test Centuries off his record because of it.The bastardisation of cricket - Although England invented 20/20 I don't think they intended to have that form of the game promoted as much as it is now.. If India want to pay millions to players for 6 or 7 weeks work then fine, just don't expect the rest of the world to follow this hit and giggle rubbish. I am concerned when someone like Chris Gayle comes out and says this is the future of cricket ?? What a joke, Gayle should move to Mumbai and take up Indian citizenship if that's what he thinks. Indian fans would love him.

  • hayden on November 23, 2009, 1:16 GMT

    in regards to dwindling indian crowds for home tests, prehaps they could look at limmiting the grounds that host tests to the bigger centres. from watching tests in india on tv. cities such as chenni, mumbai, bangalore, new dehli and kolcutta still get plenty of people to games but venues such as mohali seem to offer spectators little escape from the sun which must effect spectator comfort and would deter people from going i would wager. that coupled with the distance from city centres some of these stadiums are being built are too far away eg nagpur making it hard to get too and from the match. this is just a guess but i just dont buy into that in a cricket loving country like india whos national team has never had a better chance at being number 1 in the world in tests, that its supporters have just lost interest in the longer game? surly the tv figures still do well!?

  • param on November 22, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    for the people who thinks that this Tendulkar ton was extremely special...IT WASNT...noone is even talking bout it...if Prasanna Jayawardena can make 150+, then surely u expect someone like Tendulkar to do so as it is , it was one of the most boring and lifeless innings i ever saw from Tendulkar. And I m indian, btw and I was rooting for an Indian win til day 2 and then from day 4 , I was hoping for a new pitch:P

  • Navneet on November 22, 2009, 12:13 GMT

    Xolile your stats clearly shows that Ponting has won lot of matches due to Mcgrath and Warne in his team

  • Deon on November 22, 2009, 10:07 GMT

    By the way - here is the list for centuries scored in Test matches won: 1. Ponting 27 2. Waugh 25 3. Bradman 23 3. Hayden 23 … 7. Tendulkar 16 … 22. Dravid 10 … 61. Gavaskar 6

  • Deon on November 22, 2009, 9:57 GMT

    I disagree with the heading of this article. Dead pitches are not killing Tests in India; dead pitches are keeping Test cricket alive in India. Following the latest match against Sri Lanka, here is the Top 3 for centuries scored in drawn Test matches: 1. Gavaskar 22 2. Tendulkar 18 3. Dravid 16 That's why the BCCI instructs groundsmen to produce flat pitches. The BCCI knows very well that the millions only switch on their TVs, radios and computers when Tendulkar bats. So they want to make sure that he bats for as long as possible. It's about money. And Tendulkar at the crease on his way to another 100 is serious business.

  • Pradeep on November 22, 2009, 5:29 GMT

    what the greedy administrators don't understand is that TV deals would go way when TV companies find out that spectators are not watching these boring contests...a lot more spectators will watch an absorbing test match that will end in 3 1/2 days than they'd watch a 5 day bore...and there's more value for advertisers in an exciting game where people actually PAY ATTENTION!!..

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