UP v Saurashtra, Ranji Super League semi-final, 3rd day January 7, 2008

Pitching it right

Sidharth Monga looks into the reasons why domestic batsmen come up short on sporting pitches

Domestic batsmen have struggled on pitches which offer assistance to bowlers © Cricinfo Ltd

A wicket fell every 13.2 runs in one of the shortest semi-finals in the Ranji Trophy - played between Uttar Pradesh and Saurashtra at Moti Bagh Stadium in Vadodara. Fifty-four was the highest partnership, 21 overs the longest wicketless spell, and 32 of the 40 wickets fell to medium-pacers. The semi-final ended in all of 191.2 overs, and the question everyone would want to ask is: was the wicket so bad or has India found new sensational bowlers? The answer to both will be negative; UP's Sudeep Tyagi, though, has the promise but a long way to go.

The wicket was helpful, the bowlers smart, and the batsmen incompetent. The surface was firm, had some grass, there was a little moisture, and it afforded seam movement throughout the game. At worst the wicket was merely difficult, and at best sporting.

The batsmen, all virtually born and brought up on paatas [flat tracks with no lateral movement], just did not show the application to tackle the moving ball, and never looked at ease. That none of the 40 dismissals came from a shot played early shows that the ball didn't stop on the batsmen. Nine of the 14 caught-behind dismissals came off deliveries could have been left well alone.

That runs could be scored on this wicket was shown by Mohammad Kaif and Jaydev Shah, the two captains, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kamlesh Makvana, the tailenders who showed the application and the will to hang on with the better batsmen. Kaif is not the owner of the best technique, but he showed the determination to negate the difficult conditions. He cut down on his strokes and once he got used to the movement, he accelerated. It took a special catch from Shah at mid-off to get him out.

India have picked many a batsman based on the numbers in domestic cricket only to find them exposed as soon as they play at the international level - against better attacks on better wickets. When dropped, those batsmen have come back and continued to score heavily in domestic cricket.. That, and what happened at Vadodara, is a statement on the kind of wickets domestic cricket in India is played on and the quality of players it generates.

Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of the national selection committee, who watched the game, was singularly unimpressed. "There is nothing wrong with the wicket; they haven't shown any application. They are playing way too many shots."

Kaif seemed to agree. "Domestic batsmen are used to playing on flat wickets. The moment they are given a wicket better than that, they seem to struggle," Kaif said. "And when one or two fall to an inside edge, the others also go with the mindset that the wicket is not good to bat on."

It is interesting to note here that this is the first time the semi-finals are being played at neutral venues. At the same venue earlier this season, Bengal were 221 for 0 on the first day against Baroda, and in another match Baroda drew against Orissa. On both occasions, the team winning the toss had chosen to bat first. Here for the semi-final, when there was no home team around, the Moti Bagh Stadium track, which has a reputation of being helpful to the fast bowlers, returned to its characteristic self.

It is obvious and an open secret that no association wants bowler-friendly wickets for its home matches and the curator has to work accordingly; unless the team is in dire need of an outright win, the tracks are all flat.

The home captain has a big say in the kind of wickets prepared. Is it a surprise, then, that of all the 15 teams in the Super League, not one has a bowling captain?

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo.