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Dead pitch demeans Test cricket

Both captains agreed that the Kensington Oval pitch didn't do Test cricket many favours as the fourth Test ended in a predictable draw

A dead pitch did not aid England's series prospects © Getty Images
Both captains agreed that the Kensington Oval pitch didn't do Test cricket many favours as the fourth Test ended in a predictable draw. Over five days, 1628 runs were scored for the loss of 17 wickets. At a time when the game is trying to retain relevancy, matches like this do little to help. The only people they keep entertained are excitable statisticians and the only people happy are the TV executives.
This non-contest followed on from an equally bat-dominated Test in Karachi last week, while the ongoing match in Lahore is shaping up as another run-fest. The tussle between South Africa and Australia in Johannesburg showed how compelling Test cricket can be on a surface that offers something for everyone, but this pitch never threatened to be an even battle.
"I don't know how groundsmen prepare pitches but maybe there's a will on the part of the administrators for Test matches to go five days," Andrew Strauss said. "And that might mean the incentive is there for groundsmen to make sure it goes five days and be a little bit conservative on how they prepare the wicket.
"As a group of players we all want to see result wickets which are fair and I appreciate that's a difficult balance for a groundsman to come to, but those are the wickets that produce the best cricket."
"No one knew it would be so good," Chris Gayle said. "But we have to play on what we get - it was really flat and a hard wicket for bowlers to toil on. But we are 1-0 up so we are not going to come out and make too much complaint about the wicket. England made runs on it, it was just one of those Test matches."
Gayle's more phlegmatic approach to the pitch is unsurprising. West Indies are a draw away from regaining the Wisden Trophy for the first time since losing it at The Oval in 2000. It would also be their first series victory since they beat Bangladesh in 2004 and their first against major opposition since Sri Lanka in 2003.
However, Gayle said he wouldn't mind a bit more life at the Queen's Park Oval. "Hopefully we will have a bit more excitement there, even though we are 1-0 up, it would be good to have some good cricket and more excitement. We will see what happens, we're not sure what kind of track we will get."
For all the run-scoring feats in this game, topped by Ramnaresh Sarwan's magnificent 291 and Denesh Ramdin's career-best 166, they need to be weighed against conditions. For example, Graham Gooch's 154 not out in 1991 is rated as one of greatest innings played because it was made against a fearsome West Indies attack on a Headingley greentop. Perversely, Younis Khan went to No. 1 in the current batting rankings after his triple century in Karachi, despite it being his first Test for more than a year. Players are aware that their skills are shown in a better light with a tougher challenge.
"That wicket remained incredible flat throughout the game, if anything it was probably flatter today than any other days," Strauss said. "As cricketers you want to see a wicket that deteriorates as the match goes on and we didn't get that in this game. As a result it became a fairly boring draw which I don't think anyone wants to see.
"Generally I think even if you can't force a result you want to have a pretty tight tussle like in Antigua where you can nearly force a result. Clearly on this wicket that would have been extremely difficult to do."
West Indies' tactics in Trinidad will be fascinating. This is such a rare advantage for them to hold that there must be a temptation to play it on the safe side. They have named the same squad and Jerome Taylor is expected to be fully fit despite only bowling four overs on the final day in Barbados because of a minor ankle problem.
However, Gayle talked a good game and promised to aim for a victory regardless of conditions. "Definitely we are looking for the win, we are not going out to play for the draw and be negative," he said. "We still have to play positive cricket. Once you go out with a negative mentality it can do more damage to you."
Pitches that produce run-fests like we have just witnessed over the last five days are certainly not to the benefit of the game at large, but from a purely pragmatic point of view there will be one team quite happy if there is a repeat performance in the final game. With a major success within their grasp West Indies will try and take it any way they can.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo