West Indies v England, 3rd ODI, Antigua March 4, 2014

Spectators deserve a better pitch

The pitch in Antigua, which will be used for the third time, is doing the spectator few favours but all the players can do is take their chance. Ravi Bopara did that two days ago, winning a game he may not have done in the past

Young guns need to step up for WI and England

Cricket's governing bodies are a curious bunch. Try to take a soft drink into a game in many places and you can be refused entry; wear a branded top in some places and you face the prospect of being accused of ambush marketing. During the 2007 World Cup, a fellow had his lunch taken from him because the baguette he carried was deemed to be a weapon.

But when it comes to the really important thing - the product that is the game of cricket - they, at best, do nothing.

Dull pitches represent a greater threat to the future of the game than drugs, spot-fixing, ambush marketing or websites seeking to celebrate and propagate cricket. Dull pitches will result in dull matches that risk losing the interest of spectators and failing to attract the next generation of supporters. And that was, of course, the original point of limited-overs cricket.

So it should come as a disappointment to learn that West Indies and England will contest the deciding ODI of their series in Antigua on the same begrudging surface that hosted the first two games. The same surface that yielded just nine fours in West Indies' innings in the second ODI. The same surface where part-time spinners have proved so effective in stifling the scoring. The same surface where where strokeplay and pace are punished and where patience and accumulation are rewarded. Where anti-cricket thrives. ODI cricket was not meant to be this way.

It is no coincidence and should be no surprise that attendances have declined in the Caribbean since such pitches became the norm. This ground has only been filled once. And that was when Kenny Rogers took his love to town.

There is, in this case at least, some mitigation. The conditions here are expected to be similar to those in Bangladesh where, in a couple of weeks, these two sides will be starting their World T20 campaign. But it is a shame that spectators have been asked to sit through - and pay for - a training session in desultory cricket.

That is not to say that both this sides are not desperate to win. They are like two old heavyweights slugging it out on the undercard; battling not so much for glory as to sustain an ebbing career. They craze confidence and momentum after chastening months and, quite rightly, see each other as opposition ripe for the taking. This has not been a high-quality series.

But both sides could be strengthened for this game. Marlon Samuels is not 100% but will be considered for selection by West Indies in the place of the horribly out of sorts Kirk Edwards, while Alex Hales and Eoin Morgan have now trained for three days in succession and are close to a return. Luke Wright looks most vulnerable. In a series typified by weak batting, all three would be welcome.

One man who can already take some confidence from this series is Ravi Bopara. His match-winning partnership with Stuart Broad in the second game might not, in the grand scheme of things, be remembered as one of the great innings - he scored 38 in 59 balls, after all - but in the context of his England career, it might prove quietly significant.

As things stand, the defining moment of Bopara's career is the Champions Trophy final. With England on course for victory - they required 20 to win from 14 balls - Bopara, the last experienced batsman, pulled a long-hop from Ishant Sharma to square-leg. England lost by five runs and their long wait for that first global ODI trophy remains. It is a memory that might bother the whole team for the rest of their lives.

It is an uncomfortably accurate summation of Bopara's career, too, which has to date promised rather more than it has delivered. And certainly the memory of it bothers Bopara.

"We came so close in the Champions Trophy," he said. "We had a chance to win a global competition. That would have been amazing for the team. For all of us, really. Not winning was heartbreaking. It's right up there with the worst disappointment I've had.

"When you're out there, you don't think back. You don't think 'this is what happened in the Champions Trophy'. You just play the situation. You play the ball. But every now and then I'll be sitting watching TV and I'll think about the Champions Trophy final and think 'maybe I could have done this or that'."

He appears to have learned from the experience.

"When we needed three to win the other day, Darren Sammy came on as the top bowlers had bowled out," Bopara said. "He bowled me a short ball and I took the single and got up the other end, looked at square leg and thought 'You know what, I could easily have hit that straight at him.' If I'd just pulled it, it would have felt nice coming straight out of the middle of the bat, you think, alright that's going for four, but it goes straight to the bloke. That could easily have happened again.

Such episodes bode well for England. If Bopara, who says he has "never been more hungry" to return to Test cricket, can find the composure to complement his talent, he could yet win many games for England. Perhaps in all formats.

"I feel stronger and tougher," he said. "I don't question myself as much as I used to. I went through that that period when things weren't right with my life and I took my eye off the ball. I had a lot of time to think about what I want to do and why I'm here and why I started playing cricket. I realised that the most important thing in my life apart from my family is cricket. Finishing my career saying I've played 13 Tests and 100 ODIs; that doesn't satisfy me."

Winning this ODI series may not satisfy these teams, either. But it will provide something of a foundation stone at the start of a long rebuilding process.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dean on March 5, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    In the hey days of the WI most surfaces in the region provided plenty of pace & bounce. There were one or 2 exceptions notably the old rec at Antigua which was often pretty flat. However WI were criticized back then for producing pitches which were 2 much in favor of fast bowling. I didn't go along with that it was the WI attack that was generally too good for the opposition batsman & they proved this by the amount of series they won away from home. Since the demise of WI cricket there seems to have been a sea change in surfaces played on. As WI have produced fewer fast bowlers, pitches have got slower & slower. It's sad when you see such small crowds at games these days. If the pitches could be be quickened up i'm sure it would make for more exciting cricket & it may get fans back in the grounds. It may also help with the search for quality tall fast bowlers, something WI used to have in a abundance but something which has now been missing from the game for well over a decade.

  • Dummy4 on March 5, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    My issue with the pitch is not so much that it spins but that it offers such a lot to poor quality spin like Joe Root. England are better off bowling him than a specialist pace bowler. Spectators are not seeing proper bowlers trying to get out proper batmen they are see players who barely bowl in domestic cricket. International Cricket should be the best Vs the best, but England already ruined that by sending a very odd squad

    These sort of pitches have there place as I wouldn't want to see 350 plays 340 every game but to play three in a row.

  • ian on March 5, 2014, 10:26 GMT

    I'll put my hand up, Cpt Meanster, but it's up to you as to whether you think my definition of a fair pitch shows 'an ounce of common sense' (I'd prefer to be showing an ounce of unbiassed cricketing appreciation, btw). A fair pitch is straw-coloured at the outset, perhaps with the merest hint of green. In session 1, the swing and seam bowlers can get a little movement through the air & off the pitch and keep the opposing top order honest - testing their skill against the moving ball; as the first day wears on, the green tinge disappears; the batsmen are able to increase the rate of scoring as the bowling is easier to play. The ball should come on to the bat and there should be a decent amount of lift possible for the quicks that put their backs into their work. Days 2 & 3 are the best for batting. Some time on day four spinners start to get some quick turn & reverse swing is also possible on the dry pitch. Dusting up on the last day creates more opps for spin. Fair: all skills tested!

  • Jackie on March 5, 2014, 10:24 GMT

    What is a decent pitch? Wouldn't spin bowlers say that this is a decent pitch? Different batting skills are needed than batting on pitches that suit batsmen playing strokes and getting boundaries. Wouldn't it make for dull cricket to have the same sort of game on every pitch curated to so-called "entertain" the crowd - isn't struggle itself exciting? The phrase "low-scoring thriller" can apply to t20 as well as ODs - and ironically given the discussion - was used a number of times in the Big Bash. We don't want a lessening of skills, but more variety so that batsmen can cope on any pitch they encounter. That is surely a truer test than just performing on very good batting pitches. It's all part of this mantra approach to cricket - you play a certain kind of cricket on all surfaces - instead of that art form of Reading the Game. I thought Lumb showed he was a cut above the other batsmen. He challenged the fashion for saying we always need to attack - he sensibly rotated the strike.

  • Kevin on March 5, 2014, 6:16 GMT

    Posted by riverlime on It takes money-lots of it- to replace pitches. WICB has none.

    Perhaps it's time the WICB pondered the fact they have no money. They have been around a long, long time.

    WICB needs to take a very good look at themselves, their surroundings, their supporters (or lack there of), their sponsors (or lack there of) and do something, anything to start to get some sort of cash flow.

    Perhaps they could enlist the many superstars of yesteryear that are still largely loved and respected. If the legends are used right they may be able to encourage youngsters to take up the game and in turn get their parents to take them to WI games.

    Get the legends to the schools, to cricket training, on posters and T.V advertisements. Not just an ad here or there, saturate the airwaves.

    The legends may well be repaid at a later date if player numbers go up as elite coaches, managers etc may be needed.

    Boosting crowds at cricket games will boost cash flow and encourage sponsors.

  • Jay on March 5, 2014, 2:57 GMT

    Can somebody with an ounce of common sense define to me what a 'fair' pitch is ? Cause, I am sick and tired of these same old stories surfacing up whenever England or any other non-Asian team plays. These teams make it a BIG deal about slow pitches because they know they ain't good enough to play on them. Not every geographical conditions around the world allows for pitches with green grass, pace and bounce. A good cricket team MUST win in all conditions. Otherwise, don't even bother convincing me. England are anything but a good team and the same can be said about most non-Asian teams. Live with it dear England. Caribbean pitches ain't getting quick any time soon. Besides, I love slow pitches and I think they test batsmen more than any other pitch type because of the self-generated pace the batsmen have to create in order to execute shots.

  • ESPN on March 4, 2014, 23:49 GMT

    Shouldn't moved away from the Recreation Ground. This new stadium is a shambles. Awful outfield, awful wickets, awful atmosphere

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 21:24 GMT

    Ravi really is England's answer to Watto! Perhaps with a decent run at it and an injury free run he could make it in all 3 formats, hard to say but I think England needs his experience right now.

  • Fuzail on March 4, 2014, 20:54 GMT

    Absolutely agree . i think its about time Cricket Authorities show a little bit more Respect to the fans . Without us This Game won`t be the Same . I have been to the Eden Gardens a Few times and basically u can`t Carry anything apart from your Cell Phone there but its Understandable because there have been some instances of the crowd being rowdy and disrupting a match .

    The Pitches are the Key to Entertainment . I want Bowler Friendly Pitches for Test Matches and Flat Tracks for the Limited overs Cricket . it Does`nt matters if Its a Green Top or a Rank Turner but as long as it is Producing Results its Great . Indian Pitches are Crticized the most but in the Last 10 Test matches in india has produced 9 Results which is great for Test Cricket .

    Slow and Low Pitches are the most boring pitches . Where the Bowl neither Swings nor comes on to the Bat Nicely , Its Just Boring .

  • joel on March 4, 2014, 20:27 GMT

    It takes money-lots of it- to replace pitches. WICB has none. So who will bell the cat?

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