The pitch belongs to the curator
There's been an increase in the amount of comment by players about what type of pitches should be prepared for home Test series.
The players need to be careful where tit-for-tat pitch preparation might lead. Allrounder Shane Watson is the latest to weigh in as he looked ahead to the upcoming Test series in Australia: "We are hopeful that the groundsmen are going to make the grounds very conducive to what we do, because in India they certainly make sure the conditions are favourable to them."
I was reminded of two things when I read that quote. The first was a story told by Tony Greig about playing first-class cricket in South Africa.
It was at a time when umpires were appointed by the local association and the standard had dipped alarmingly. Greig described how the Western Province players would tell their local umpires to "send off" the Transvaal batsmen because that was the treatment they received when playing in Johannesburg. In the end the situation became so dire the players declared a moratorium and agreed to "walk" when they knew they were out.
That situation didn't last long and soon chaos reigned.
The other was a comment concerning players who decide an umpire is either weak or incompetent and the team agrees to "appeal for everything". Those teams are often the first to complain when the umpiring in a match is below standard. Hence the often-heard and eminently true comment: "Beware you don't get the umpiring you deserve."
The same could apply to pitches if players are going to start demanding retribution from the home curators.
I've always believed that there should be a divide between players and groundsmen. Let the experts prepare the best pitch possible and then it's up to the players to perform on that surface.
If you consider yourself a good international cricketer you should be able to adapt to whatever conditions are provided. I have often defended Australia vigorously over claims of "doctoring" pitches. In all my years playing and watching I can say that the nature of an Australian Test pitch is the same as what you get at that ground for a first-class match. The five-day pitch may be a little better prepared but the nature is the same.
I'd go one step further and say that as captain, if I'd asked any Australian curator for a certain type of pitch, the answer would have been: "Get stuffed. I'll prepare the pitch, you play on it."
In an ideal world that is how it should be throughout the cricket world. And the administrators should also keep their nose out of the pitch preparation process. However, that doesn't always happen.
I'm often amused that the English media has been the most vocal critic of Australia for preparing tailor-made pitches. This from the country that ambushed Australia with a dust bowl at Old Trafford in 1956 and the supposed fusarium-riddled pitch at Headingley in 1972, just to mention a couple of episodes.
The Australian players can take solace in the knowledge that the England hierarchy felt they needed specially prepared pitches to win.
In my experience curators/groundsmen are just like players. They have pride in their performance and want to do the best job possible. When asked, the good ones generally say: "I'd like to produce a pitch that provides good cricket and result late on the fifth day."
I'd like to see an edict to that effect for world cricket with the added comment that the Test pitch preparation should be the sole domain of the ground staff and that any outside interference will be heavily fined.
In the meantime, the Indian players should be able to rest easy in the knowledge that they already know what they will face in Australia. Hopefully they will be playing on surfaces that will be exactly the same in nature as those that are provided for the first-class matches at those venues.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist