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