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Comment

Why does Ramiz Raja think Pakistan have a problem with their pitches?

Surfaces have not been bad there historically. Ironically, they have been since he became chairman

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
08-Dec-2022
The England series opener was played on a pitch to lie down and die upon  •  Aamir Qureishi/AFP/Getty Images

The England series opener was played on a pitch to lie down and die upon  •  Aamir Qureishi/AFP/Getty Images

Good. Very good. Good. Below average.
In order, oldest to latest, those are the ICC ratings for Rawalpindi pitches in the four Tests Pakistan have played there since Test cricket returned to the country in December 2019, excluding the last, against England.
That first Test was ruined by rain but the two subsequent ones, against Bangladesh and South Africa, were played on pitches designed to reap results, which they did. They weren't rank turners or green mambas, though there was enough grass on the surface against Bangladesh for Pakistan to talk publicly about moving on from the UAE spin era. In both games there was movement for the new ball off the surface, there was a period when batters could feel settled, there was bounce, there was purchase for spin, there were runs to be made, and there was reverse swing. In short, the contest between bat and ball was fair and compelling.
The last rating was for the Test against Australia.
Between that match and this England Test, Rawalpindi hosted seven Quaid-e-Azam trophy games in which wickets came at a cost of 32.4 and a strike rate of 60.38. Fast bowlers took 142 wickets at 32.6, spinners 66 wickets at 30. In the last of those games, a month ago, Mohammad Abbas took seven wickets for Southern Punjab and the mystery spin of Abrar Ahmed eight wickets for Sindh. In short, the contest between bat and ball in those games was fair and compelling. Then came this England Test, which, like that Australia Test, provided a grossly unfair and off-putting imbalance between bat and ball.
That England secured a win on the final day should not mask what an abomination the surface was. It took one of their greatest performances ever to eke out a result, otherwise the pitch was made purely to secure a draw for Pakistan. The two Test surfaces, in other words, have been nothing like those from a couple of years ago or even, more recently, those of this domestic season. Nasser Hussain said the pitch didn't deserve to have the players it had on it.
Ramiz Raja, the PCB chairman, also condemned the surface, calling it "embarrassing". In various media interactions, Ramiz also said that it would take anywhere from a season to several years to fix pitches; that Pakistan were in the dark ages as far as pitch preparation was concerned.
Ordinarily such comments might get a pass. He is the chairman. Foreign media are in town. He is an easy content provider. He is bilingually perfect, because he speaks English but also the language of the media, made up of buzzwords and clichés. The pitch is so awful it needs accountability. This is the ceremonial dance of chairmanship.
Except, in Ramiz's case, those comments cannot pass so easily. As well as being alarmist, the idea that Pakistan cannot produce good pitches is more than a little disingenuous, because as those ICC ratings suggest, Test pitches have been this bad only since Ramiz became chairman. It's surprising he doesn't remember Rawalpindi producing good surfaces because he was commentating on those games before he became chairman. In the daily analysis he did for his YouTube channel, he praised the surface for the Test against South Africa, not least on day four when he said the curator had prepared a shaandaar, or brilliant, surface with something in it for everyone.
If such a shaandaar surface could be produced as recently as February 2021, why should it take years to produce another surface like that - or at least a surface less like the one this England Test was played on? Why should it take so long and be seen as so difficult to produce better surfaces when the evidence of this first-class season in Rawalpindi says that there is not much work to be done?
It shouldn't, is the short answer. The only reason the last two Test surfaces in Rawalpindi have been so poor, so lifeless, is because Pakistan have wanted them that way, not because there is something inherently wrong with them. The problem is not the pitches but the conservative mindset among the leadership of Pakistan cricket.
Earlier this year Ramiz all but admitted that the Rawalpindi pitch had been flattened to neutralise Australia's attack. After the England loss Babar Azam said this was not the pitch Pakistan wanted, even though they had "a lot of input" into what they wanted. They wanted a turner, though the deed of picking just one spinner from a squad of three - and not a spinning allrounder who was Pakistan's leading wicket-taker in their last Test series - rather belies those words.
Ordinarily, most board chairmen would not be as fixated on pitches as Ramiz appears to be. He brought in a curator from Australia for a ten-day stint ahead of the third Test of that series. Nobody is sure what purpose that served. He brought in another Australian curator in July, this time for local curators to pick his brains about pitch preparations. (He has little faith in local curators clearly: in a previous stint as board CEO, he brought in Andy Atkinson to help prepare pitches for a series against India.) He's been keen on bringing drop-in pitches to Pakistan, though that plan has had to be put on hold because of the expense involved in shipping them in. Now he wants to develop them in Pakistan.
The solution is questionable because drop-in pitches are useful usually in multipurpose venues, where cricket shares space with other sports. All of Pakistan's main cricket stadiums are under the control of the PCB and so will only be used for cricket. It is more questionable because, on the evidence of all Tests played in Pakistan since their return in 2019-20, it could be argued there wasn't a problem in the first place - until Ramiz took over.
Ramiz has already warned that similar surfaces will be seen for the rest of season, another two Tests against England and two when New Zealand visit. At which point, it is worth revisiting the three home series against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and South Africa and asking: why?
Sure, Multan, where Pakistan and England now play, is a bit of an unknown in that this Test will be the first there since November 2006. Five of the seven first-class games there over the last two seasons have been drawn, though not in homogenous fashion. But Karachi, the venue for the last Test of the England series, has played out two Tests (before the one against Australia, under Ramiz's tenure) of compelling cricket: it spun more than some could ever remember on the first day of one and had seam movement and invariable enough bounce to keep batters honest on the first day of the other.
In one sense, it is understandable that Ramiz is so hung up on pitches. His USP when he became chairman after all was that he was a cricketer and what cricket needed more of was cricketers running it. Indeed, who else could run it better? And so, going by that platform, of course he will get in the weeds with pitches.
Except, if the state of Pakistan's Test pitches is anything to go by, the evidence is growing that it's not being run particularly well.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo