Matches (12)
BPL 2023 (2)
ILT20 (2)
England Lions in Sri Lanka (1)
Ranji Trophy (4)
ZIM v WI (1)
SA v ENG (1)
IND v NZ (1)
Hassan Cheema

Pakistan's pitches out of tune with fans, team's needs

The response of the fans in the two games against Zimbabwe has shown that one-sided run-fests are not as attractive as they are made out to be

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema
29-May-2015
Like the preceding T20 series, the two ODIs have been run-fests, too  •  AFP

Like the preceding T20 series, the two ODIs have been run-fests, too  •  AFP

Unlike most press boxes around the world, Lahore's does not believe in serenity - there is a certain liveliness to it whenever a big game (which, to be fair, has usually been restricted to domestic matches in recent years) occurs. It requires something extraordinary to happen, but occasionally the norm is broken: for instance, when Wasim Akram walks in. More than a decade after his retirement it would be difficult to argue that Akram isn't, still, the biggest star in Pakistan cricket - if not in Pakistan.
As hushed whispers bounded, the proverbial stage was Akram's. Reminiscing about his playing days and the packed stadia that were once common throughout the country, he informed everyone of how the fruits of the return of international cricket in Pakistan go so far beyond just what is happening in this tour. And yet one thing remains the same, from the days that forced Pakistani bowlers to develop reverse-swing to Akram himself toiling away for hours trying to produce something from an uncooperative pitch - Pakistan remains a batsman's nirvana.
There are, of course, caveats to such a statement. Pitches in Pakistan, in general, have deteriorated badly over the past decade or so, to the point that they've become the chief bête noir of local batsmen. And in the middle of the season, the winter makes most matches in the northern half of the country - including Lahore - perfect for swing bowlers. But beyond that, whether it is in the limited-overs matches in the domestic game or most international matches this millennium, the pitch at Gaddafi has been a batsmen's paradise. After consecutive T20s where scores in excess of 170 were chased down in this series, the two ODIs so far have been run-fests as well. Today Zimbabwe's score of 268, considered competitive on most surfaces, never looked like enough. Despite an attempt by his batsmen to make it difficult, the continuation of Azhar Ali's purple patch was always likely to be a bit too much. And so it proved. And yet even tonight won't change his perception or be enough to silence his doubters.
Despite decades of complaints by Pakistani captains and pacers about these pitches; despite the condescension with which Pakistani blowhards downplay any performances achieved across the border, the truth is we are not that different after all. In fact, in the last decade when Pakistan hosted regular international cricket, they could easily be grouped with India and separated from the rest.
The administrators in Pakistan - like administrators everywhere else - seem to believe in the notion that runs and boundaries are what most interest the paying public. A notion which is rarely challenged, because the homogenisation of pitches allows very little evidence to counter such beliefs
These two, much more than any other country, have been the harbingers of a less balanced game. And whereas India could at least point to having one of the two best ODI batting line-ups in the world through that decade, Pakistan had Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam-ul-Haq and a bunch of players who have never succeeded beyond the flat tracks they become used to playing in Pakistan. Perhaps some of these flat track bullies may have matured beyond what they did, as Ahmer Naqvi recently argued, had the state of the country been a bit less abnormal, but it doesn't change the fact that the pitches in Pakistan are ill-suited to what the team or the fans would consider desirable.
And most guilty of this are perhaps the two great grounds in this country. While Gaddafi has developed a reputation for its flat tracks, it still can't compete with the National Stadium Karachi when it comes to inducing nightmares for bowlers, like every other major ground in the world.
The reasons for this are obvious. Despite what the pacers may want, Pakistan batsmen have always had much sway in the dressing room - and their requests are often placed above anyone else's, especially if one of them is the captain. Then there is the culture that believes that a flat track is somehow a good track. After being raised in the domestic game on uneven surfaces, the lifeless flatness of Gaddafi would certainly appeal to the likes of Azhar Ali. And finally, perhaps most importantly, the administrators in Pakistan - like administrators everywhere else - seem to believe in the notion that runs and boundaries are what most interest the paying public. A notion which is rarely challenged, because the homogenisation of pitches allows very little evidence to counter such beliefs.
Of course the interesting thing is that unlike what the administrators would like to believe, mindless run-fests don't tend to have as much appeal with Pakistani fans as they might elsewhere. Zimbabwe made a fist of their target in the first ODI but their innings ended with almost a third of the stadium empty - even in the first ODI in the country for over six years Pakistanis felt bored watching a match where the bat dominated the ball this much. Some argued that it was because of the timing of the matches, and the fact that it was Zimbabwe chasing. But, almost as if just to counter such a viewpoint, the second half of Pakistan's chase tonight was also witnessed by an emptying stadium (although there were additional external factors to it, to be fair). Even the excitement of finally watching ODI cricket without a visa is not enough for Pakistanis to sit and watch as bowlers are treated like serfs.
Thus Pakistan now have an opportunity. The six-year hiatus has provided them with a chance to reflect, and allowed them an opportunity to fix what has been broken for so long. But putting your hopes of a fairer sport on the shoulders of Pakistani administrators might be more naïve than those who assumed Wasim Akram still remembers them 13 years after their solitary meeting.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag