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PCB puts on hold plan for Australian drop-in pitches

The board is set to hire a consultant to look into the feasibility of the idea

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Mitchell Starc stretches well forward, Pakistan vs Australia, 2nd Test, Karachi, March 13, 2022

Bowlers have had to work exceptionally hard for their wickets on the pitches that have hosted the Pakistan-Australia Test series  •  AFP/Getty Images

The PCB's plan to bring drop-in pitches from Australia has been delayed. The board is now likely to hire a consultant who will first advise it on whether it is feasible to have the Australian-made pitches in Pakistan. Instead, ESPNcricinfo understands the PCB is likely to get soil in from Australia and seed it at multiple venues as part of a trial.
The original plan was to have two readymade pitches as a short-term solution to help Pakistan prepare for the upcoming T20 World Cup, which is to be held in Australia in October-November. It was also part of a broader plan to overhaul the standard of pitches across the country - a key plank in the chairmanship of Ramiz Raja.
The company given the contract to import the drop-in pitches has been asked to hold the purchase, which, in any case, would have been a fairly lengthy process, potentially taking up to 10 months. The PCB had signed an MoU with the investment company Arif Habib Group, which was to bear the PKR 37 crore (USD 2 million approx) procurement cost. That money is still likely to be used in the development of pitches.
Since he took over as PCB chairman, Ramiz has been vocal about various issues that he sees afflicting Pakistan cricket. Pitches have become his most urgent priority. "Until pitches are fixed, we aren't going anywhere as it's the heartbeat of cricket," he had told ESPNcricinfo last year in December.
"It is Ramiz's vision and mission to improve the quality of the pitches at all international and domestic cricket venues," a PCB spokesperson told ESPNcricinfo. "In this regard, we've hired an Australian expert on drop-in pitches as a consultant, who will tour Pakistan in April and visit all potential venues for a complete assessment and evaluation before suggesting next steps.
"As we don't have experts on drop-in pitches, we need to have a feasibility about everything around it. There are several critical elements to the success of this initiative, including weather conditions, usage of the venues, soil requirements and overall design and outlook of the venue."
Drop-in pitches are prominent in Australia and New Zealand, where a number of stadiums host multiple sports. A portable turf pitch is installed whenever a cricket match is to take place. In Pakistan, however, the PCB either leases out cricket stadiums or owns them directly, and cricket is the only sport played at these venues. The PCB maintains all stadiums through the year, employing their own curators for each venue.
Pitches have been in the spotlight during Pakistan's ongoing Test series against Australia, in general for their flat, docile nature. In particular, the surface in Rawalpindi came in for heavy criticism after just 14 wickets fell over five days of a drawn first Test, and it ultimately earned a "below average" rating from the ICC.
Soon after, Ramiz conceded that the pitch had been prepared, in part, to nullify Australia's strengths and account for injury-enforced absences in the Pakistan side. The nature of that pitch was in contrast to Rawalpindi's reputation as the most seam-friendly of Pakistan's main venues.
In fact, Pakistan's pitches since the return of Test cricket to the country in late 2019 and until this series had been widely viewed as sporting surfaces with something in them for batters, fast bowlers and spinners.
But the surfaces for the first two Tests against Australia in Rawalpindi and Karachi pushed the PCB to hire Australian curator Toby Lumsden to assist the local curator while preparing the pitch for the ongoing third Test in Lahore, in a bid to produce a more helpful track for spinners. But the Test match has been dominated by the fast bowlers, who took 17 of the 20 wickets to fall on the first three days.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent