Plenty of runs in store at Kensington Oval
One particular contrast between two significant ICC events over the past fortnight has been sharp and instructive. Totals at the Champions Trophy in India have been low, the scoring rates slow, and they have taken to using glue to improve the standard of the pitch at one major venue.
In the simultaneous inter-club tournament at the Kensington Oval in Barbados - that is an initial rehearsal for the newly-laid square and outfield in advance of next year's World Cup - batsmen have piled up the runs, boundaries have proliferated, and there hasn't been a pot of polyvinyl adhesive to be seen anywhere.
Richard "Prof" Edwards, the former Barbados and West Indies fast bowler who is supervising the relaying and relocation of the literal centerpiece of the new-look Kensington, had declared that he was "very satisfied with how things have gone in the trial matches". The ground will host six Super Eight matches and the grand final next April.
Employed by the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the World Cup, Edwards has a team of groundsmen under him, directed by Leonard Yearwood and his assistant, Richard Applewaite.
"From two weeks before the first match, I knew the pitches would be good," he said. "We started to roll them and they started to look good. We could see that they were in the same shape as when we re-laid Kensington the last time."
Citing the scores in the trial matches, Edwards noted that the pitches have had "pace and bounce in them and good carry". Floyd Reifer, the long-serving Barbados left-hander, was the first to score a hundred on the new square but his 104 couldn't prevent his team losing to Carlton, for whom Dale Richards hit 97. Carlton reached the target of 298 with four wickets and seven balls to spare. St Catherine's Kenroy Williams followed with 129 not out in his team's 355 for nine against the BCL's Sunrise on Thursday, and on Friday Empire comfortably passed YMPC's 198 all out for four wickets in 27.1 overs to advance to the final.
At the somewhat more prestigious contests in India, there have been eight totals under 170 in the 13 matches to date, two of them under 100. It has made for generally depressing watching. To ensure that the same problem doesn't undermine next year's World Cup, the ICC and Cricket World Cup 2007 Inc have assembled a team of specialists to carry out on-site inspections on the preparation of relevant surfaces.
Wednesday was the Kensington Oval's turn. Edwards said the pitch gurus used a clegg hammer, "an instrument that assesses soil compactness, surface stiffness and impact characteristics", to help them with their findings.
"The pitches are still new and they've been only used for these matches so far, so they will get harder," he predicted. He explained that, in addition to testing the firmness of the surface, the inspection teams concentrate on how level it is, whether it has a slight slope, whether some parts are low and other such details.
"But you're never going to get a piece of turf that will look like a sheet of glass," he said. "While it's good to know you need a little filling here and a little filling there, at the end of the day that's not too important unless it's extreme".
More than 110 years after it staged its first inter-territorial match, the Kensington Oval is being completely reconstructed and reconfigured for the World Cup. All but two of the stands are being replaced, while the playing area has been transformed into a perfect circle, with the square shifted 20 metres to the east to accommodate six pitches.
It remains a work in progress but if batsmen don't prosper during the World Cup, as the clubs have done over the past few days, they shouldn't be able to blame the pitch, as they could do in the Champions Trophy.