Spectators deserve a better pitch

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.