November 12, 2010

Can Hyderabad produce a good pitch?

Fourteen months ago the Uppal stadium laid out sporting tracks for the Champions League. Can it do the same for its first Test?

A cricketer makes an emotional return, a cricketer makes a dramatic exit; a good cricket tournament turns 25; and a nice man who played cricket dares to contest an election. If Bill Lawry cast his eyes on our part of the world, he might well squeal, "It's all happening out there!" It is.

Hyderabad is all excited about VVS Laxman playing his first Test at home. Interestingly, not a single player in the match, not even Sachin Tendulkar, has played a Test in Hyderabad. For a long time it had to do with the absence of a stadium - since my beloved Lal Bahadur Stadium was taken away and the commentary box had clotheslines in it, for hanging underwear up to dry! But the new stadium in Uppal is fine, certainly a lot better than some others that have hosted Tests in recent times.

But while the quality of the stadium and the change rooms (which are outstanding in Hyderabad) is a factor, players would happily trade it for a good surface. And that could well be Hyderabad's greatest test. At the Champions League 14 months ago, they produced brilliant tracks. One of those would be fine here; all the ball really needs to do is bounce a bit more and die a bit less after hitting the surface.

Good players like good pitches. One-sided tracks help nobody, and I'm certain Suresh Raina, Gautam Gambhir and Harbhajan Singh will prefer playing on a wicket with a bit of life in it. And then, hopefully, Harbhajan can get going with the ball, which is what India needs and what he has not been consistent with.

Harbhajan was born to bowl, and for all his achievements, and there have been many, he must feel he is underperforming now. Many cricketers would be happy to have a record like his, but I hope he is aiming higher and not getting carried away with this business of naming bowlers as allrounders. Over 122 innings he has one century, scores a 50 every 15 innings, and averages 17.50. Even over the last three years, his best batting years, he averages 19.48. These are numbers that belong to a bowler who can bat a bit, and are very, very similar to what Shane Warne produced as a batsman; and I don't remember anyone calling Warne an allrounder.

Over 199 innings Warne averaged 17.32 and scored a half-century every 16 innings. He too was a bowler who contributed, and that is the only way really to look at Harbhajan - as a top bowler who can chip in. He needs to make the best of his next few bowling years, though, for as Muralitharan said recently in a remarkably candid interview, as you get older the "revolutions" (a cricket ball actually rotates!) decrease and so the ball doesn't dip as much.

While India prepare for a Test match, Pakistan stumble into another crisis. It is very easy to tell the world what Zulqarnain should have done, but that would be a rational response. The young man was in no position to think rationally - remember he is only 24 - and it seems he had no one to talk to. If that is indeed true, then it is the saddest thing that could befall a team; that a young man had nowhere to turn. Ideally the person he turned to should have been a senior player, but clearly there was no trust there. It is just possible, too, that he had had enough (my attention was drawn to a most curious match between Lahore Eagles and National Bank of Pakistan on March 28, 2009, when Zulqarnain was relieved as captain of Lahore and NBP made 123 for 1 in 6.1 overs, in a 50-over match, to get the required net run rate). I realise that it is just as possible that he is at fault too, but if indeed there was a threat, the rest of the cricket world needs to be more vigilant too.

And it is good to see Anil Kumble contesting an election and not asking to get a post by right. If I was a voter, I know what name I would be putting on my ballot paper.

And the admirable Sportstar Trophy, a wonderful opportunity for young cricketers to get noticed, turns 25. Quietly, the Hindu has done its bit. It is in keeping with the dignity of the institution as we've known it.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anupam on November 15, 2010, 9:01 GMT

    A match turning 5 wicket haul in second innings is over due from Bhajji. Full credit to him for the couple of centuries. I wish to see the turbanetor in his old form when he used to "take wickets in a bunch"..... Regarding Pakistan cricket, as a cricket fan i feel very sad to see the things going on... all that we can do is hope that things get back in order and also India-Pak cricket resumes ASAP!!!!

  • Anupam on November 15, 2010, 7:52 GMT

    Hmm the article was a mixed bag and Harsha touched several points. Some readers felt it below his standards, but even Sachin cant score a hundred everytime he enters the feild. It is an art to write articles and blogs and it is very difficult to be at ones creative best and meet the expectations from the readers all the time...

  • Muthuvel on November 14, 2010, 12:57 GMT

    Harbajan you would probably become highest scorer in this series,but pls dont go irfan's way focus on your bowling. Wonder if his fingers would be relaxed enough to bowl 40 odd overs in the next two days now.

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2010, 12:45 GMT

    The title of this post suggests that this article is not from the Harsha Bhogle book of thoughts. Rarely do you come up with mediocre posts like this. You could have spoken more about the Black Caps coming back strongly in Motera. Or you could have sung praise on Chris Martin, he who is often criticized recklessly by the media. Why weren't you in Motera, you could have as well visited our WIMWI during the first test.

  • Akshay on November 12, 2010, 23:15 GMT

    The first bad article I've read from you. Hope it is back to the good standards as the other articles.

  • Ravi on November 12, 2010, 23:13 GMT

    The article doesnt focus on Harbhajan's bowling stats as much as it focuses on his batting skills...No knowledgeable cricket lover would call Harbhajan an allrounder especially when Harbhajan himself expressed that he was surprised with his batting achievement (MOM award)...clearly shows he doesnt aspire to be an allrounder (he wouldnt have hands were stiff if he has a goal of becoming an allrounder). Harbhajan needs some competition in the off-spin department ...that will keep him on his toes....sometimes his comments of "I have to lead the new pack of spinners" are laughable..when his own performance doesnt justify his bowling skills.

  • Mars on November 12, 2010, 20:44 GMT

    Great article, India has couple of key weaknesses in bowling ad batting department. Harbhajan Singh and Rahul Dravid are two players who would have been fired by any other team and management based on their terrible performance over last couple of years but in India seniority trumps performance anytime. Sad but true!

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2010, 17:36 GMT

    TATTUs ur comments very really a NATIONAL TRAGEDY indeed Well said Harsha Harbhajan never has his feets on land.... He thinks he can turn a match on its head.. He tries to recreate Shahid Afridi's energy on the field But he's nothing more than pathetic... never reliable(and im talking about his bowling)

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2010, 14:04 GMT

    Harbhajan singh is a dead weight Indian team has been carrying for quite some time. He gets a decent catch in one and then it long is time Indians look at other spin options...

  • PADDY on November 12, 2010, 13:52 GMT

    Oh no, what a silly question from Harsha! Why not Hyderabad produce a good pitch?? All Indian pitches are really sporting tracks, where there is always something in for both batsmen and bowlers alike :) All overseas bowlers, especially fast-bowling legends really enjoy the fast, bouncy wickets here, where batsmen struggle to put up more than 250 runs in ODIs and every single test match produces a result (100%). Who said WACA (Perth) is a fast wicket? Ahmedabad is the fastest wicket in the world. Then how about Mohali, Jaipur, Lucknow, Cuttack? They are comparable to Durban, MCG, Headingley and Barbados wickets :)

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