Making a pitch for favourable weather
Wasim Akram wanted them hard and bouncy. Inzamam-ul-Haq wanted them fast and bouncy. The PCB, according to its official newsletter, also wanted them fast and bouncy. Yet, a little over two days into the first Test at Lahore, days of five an over merry run-making, days with a storm of boundaries and over 800 runs for the loss of seven wickets, the pitch isn't either. And it continues to be the subject of criticism, muted, implied and stringent.
Days before the first Test rumours surfaced that a green-top awaited India, similar to the one that pole-axed them in Lahore in 2004. They got only bare brown. Now Michael Holding says he would have hated to bowl on this pitch. Greg Chappell says he was reminded of the Faisalabad pitch on which he scored 235 but one which prompted Dennis Lillee to call it a graveyard for fast bowlers. Inzamam now says, with characteristic understatement, there isn't much in the wicket.
Agha Zahid, the PCB's head curator, also wanted to make pitches suited to Pakistan's pace attack and might have had one here had it not been for the weather. "The way it was made we are happy with. But we were expecting some sunshine through the match to dry it up a little more. And because there was moisture in the weather then the pitch will remain dull which it has," Zahid told Cricinfo. "Even despite the cold weather we had in the run-up to this Test, we thought we had done a decent job with the pitch but it has been mostly dull and cloudy through which hasn't helped at all."
As much as the weather, Zahid says the glut of matches recently at the Gaddafi Stadium hasn't helped, dulling the pitch's life, draining its juice. "Too many matches have been played here in recent times. We had a Test and an ODI against England last month and before that, Australia A also played a number of matches here. We have three main strips on which we play on the square but when so many matches are held, the juice goes out of the pitch. It deadens it a little and so preparation becomes that much harder."
But to badly paraphrase Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton: if only we'd stop trying to be happy about pitches we could have a pretty good time watching the cricket. Pitches, before, after or during are always too flat, too green, too dry, too crumbly, too dustbowly. The baldness of Multan's pitch in 2004 was so mercilessly butchered by Virender Sehwag and journalists afterwards, that Lahore - the venue of the following Test - was turned into almost an exact opposite for the first day. Bangalore last year, where Pakistan scored 327 - only four more than they did here by the way - on the first day, the pitch was also sniped at. The pitches of Multan and Faisalabad during the recent series with England did so again although not with as much relish as India-Pakistan seems to do. Yet all these matches produced results, which essentially is what we want.
Zahid is used to it. "The criticism is always there and it was even throughout the England series although there were results and batsmen made runs, fast bowlers took wickets and leggies did too. So many experts start bemoaning a pitch straight from the first hour of play so that is always there. Pitches change over the course of a match and the weather plays a big part in that, which people don't take account of. The weather is one thing we can't help and this time the cold and damp really hasn't helped at all."
If specific instructions were forthcoming for its preparation, as the chatter always suggests (see the curious case of Inzamam, Andy Atkinson and Multan, '04), Zahid at least isn't disclosing. Disregarding the weather, the flood of recent matches, he was magically expected to produce a pitch to please all, players, coaches and the media. "I wasn't given any special instructions by anyone. I was just told to ensure that a good pitch was made." Which would be what exactly? "One that helps batsmen and bowlers alike." If we assume instructions are never likely to ask for a poor pitch that helps no one, then the fuss that surrounds the revealing of the pitch and how it will help who pre-match, seems, to be kind, unnecessary.
Probably the same fuss will begin again next week in Faisalabad. To pre-empt it, here's a tip, from Zahid. "In Faisalabad work is also being done on the pitch right now but the weather is worse there. It is cloudier, there is a little more moisture in the pitch and generally conditions are mistier and hazier there." He adds though, "People will still talk."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo