Australian pitches have been too generous to India

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Rodney Hogg slammed Steve Smith's tactics on the last day of the second Test versus New Zealand. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    When India saw the fixtures for this summer’s Test series they would have been elated. Arguably the world’s quickest, bounciest pitch, the WACA, was nowhere to be seen.

    When the equally lively deck at the Gabba proved comfortably less venomous than last summer they must have been pinching themselves.


    When the venue where quicks have prospered most in recent years, the MCG, turned out a surface resembling a Delhi highway the tourists’ smiles must have been as broad as the country they were touring.

    ‘Are we really in Australia?’, they may have pondered, looking skyward in appreciation of the comfortable circumstances.

    While they have received a sometimes hostile reception from the Australian players, the Indians could scarcely have hoped for better hospitality from the local curators.

    Given the way in which the Indians order their own groundsmen to doctor pitches that will haunt touring sides, they must be incredulous at the conditions so far in this series.

    Australia boast a pair of fast bowlers, in Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson, who are among the top-five bowlers in Test cricket and who thrive on responsive pitches.

    India boast a ragtag bunch of seamers who, despite reasonable levels of talent, rarely run through opposition line-ups regardless of the pitch conditions.

    The tourists’ batsmen have also been exposed repeatedly on decks which offer help to fast men. That is understandable as the pitches on which they hone their game in India very, very rarely behave in this manner.

    Foreign environments test even the elite cricketers. Arguably Australia’s second-greatest batsman of all time, Ricky Ponting, never managed to master the dry, dusty Indian decks. Few Australian batsmen have.

    That is why when Australia visit the subcontinent they are greeted with pitches which look like a strip of the Gobi desert.

    Pitches which turn from the first session. Pitches which offer dramatic variations in pace and bounce. Pitches so low and slow they torment Australia’s pace battery.

    We accept this as the norm in cricket.

    Countries prepare surfaces to suit their side. When Australia toured England last year the often juicy local decks were remarkably parched. The English recognised that their champion spinner Graeme Swann was the key difference between the teams and manufactured pitches that would assist him.

    It worked. Swann, who struggled in the other three Ashes series in which he played, was suddenly a major weapon and finished the series as the leading wicket-taker from either side.

    Australia swiftly returned the favour last summer by ensuring that pitches Down Under allowed Johnson and Harris to wreak havoc. So why have Australia offered a sucker an even break this time? Johnson and Harris have both expressed their disgruntlement.

    The latter player, who is known for being very even-handed in the media, was shocked that the Australian decks had been so amiable.

    “I’m not saying we should get ridiculous bouncy wickets,” Harris said last week. “But we go to India and get absolute shockers over there so it’d be nice to get some green tops over here.”

    Johnson was even more forthcoming, criticising the Australian curators heavily last week.

    “We played over there (in India) and lost four-nil on some pretty ordinary wickets. I thought we were hoping for them to come over here and play on some good, bouncy, wickets,” Johnson said.

    “I even thought the Gabba wasn’t the normal Gabba. There was a bit of bounce there, but it wasn’t the same. Wickets have been suited for the batsmen more than anything.”

    Some will say the flat pitches this summer are solely the result of Cricket Australia trying to protect its bottom line. No doubt they would like the Tests to stretch into Day 5 to ensure maximum ticket sales and to please the broadcasters.

    But this is not a new imperative. Yet this is the first summer in recent memory in which the local pitches have changed in nature and in doing so benefited the visiting side.

    Cricket Australia would have been concerned that if Harris got the green tops he hoped for the Tests could have ended inside three days. However, that is no reason to overcorrect and offer India the kind of generosity which they will never return.

    While Australia boast a potent pace attack they should prepare to play on lifeless decks every time they journey overseas. Touring sides should expect similar pitch tactics when they visit Australia.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (96)

    • January 6th 2015 @ 2:41am
      Prosenjit majumdar said | January 6th 2015 @ 2:41am | ! Report

      True, the wickets this time have been similar to the ones in the 2003-4 series, i.e. very good for batting.only on day four at the gabba the deck did a bit more and was difficult to bat on

    • January 6th 2015 @ 2:54am
      Johnno said | January 6th 2015 @ 2:54am | ! Report

      Gotta keep the ICC, oops BCCI happy. Also all the Indian TV stations who pay big bucks, they want the TV ratings $$, so a stronger India is stronger tv ratings, a hopeless bumbling India bounced out in 3-4 days doesn’t make any coin and lower tv ratings, now we wouldn’t want that would we or should I say the BCCI wouldn’t want that $, as India generates 80% of cricket revenue, you see why a competitive India is crucial at all times, hence the cynical cricket world now bends over backwards to please the BCCI as they bring in all the cash $. A weak India is bad for cricket’s bottom line $, and we wouldn’t want that would we in the cricket world less money $. Cynical but true money talks. Life wasn’t and hasn’t ever been fair or equal, and that applies to cricket more and more it seems, the larger the ever demanding Indian market and BCCI $, becomes. Can’t think of any other sport, where one sports organisation can demand a completely different set of rules too what the governing body of the sport demand.
      The NBA basketball and FIBA have different rules, but the NBA is a club comp, and all international matches have to obey FIBA rules not the NBA, same with soccer and FIFA, and rugby with “World rugby”
      But with this the BCCI is supposed to play under the ICC rules, but instead has had the power to overturn the ICC’S rules, farcical.

      • January 6th 2015 @ 9:42am
        Sideline Comm. said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:42am | ! Report

        Hate to agree with a Johnno rant, but I fear he’s close to the mark here.

      • January 6th 2015 @ 10:23am
        Vikram said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        What i was trying to tell
        goog decks in aud just help aus rather then india

        they need helping decks to win

      • January 9th 2015 @ 3:57am
        Vidyut said | January 9th 2015 @ 3:57am | ! Report

        100% percent. .agree with you mate…..BCCI is killing the great game of Cricket we all loved once.

    • January 6th 2015 @ 3:07am
      Homer said | January 6th 2015 @ 3:07am | ! Report

      But, Aussies never doctor their wickets, do they?

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2015 @ 3:12am
        Ronan O'Connell said | January 6th 2015 @ 3:12am | ! Report

        “Australia swiftly returned the favour last summer by ensuring that pitches Down Under allowed Johnson and Harris to wreak havoc.”


        • January 6th 2015 @ 8:29am
          b said | January 6th 2015 @ 8:29am | ! Report

          Actually those were typical Aussie wickets, not doctored to suit our bowlers but what one should expect from Australian pitches. The “doctored” Aussie pitches are the flat tracks made for batsman, and they aren’t doctored to favour any team, they are doctored to favour both ratings/ticket sales and short form cricket. Lifeless, characterless, mass produced roads is what the six hitting mindless short form tv market requires.

          • January 6th 2015 @ 9:13am
            Lee said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:13am | ! Report

            So fast bouncy wickets in Australia are just the normal conditions, but slow turning wickets in India aren’t?

            • January 6th 2015 @ 10:35am
              b said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:35am | ! Report

              Normal Australian pitches might be fast and bouncy, but they also have something for the batsman and the spinners. Many batsman thrive on the bounce of the WACA, and Warne’s favourite ground was the fast, bouncy Gabba. A proper test wicket should have something for fast bowlers, batsmen, and spinners. Indian pitches have nothing for fast bowlers, plenty for batsmen in the first innings (especially the team who wins the toss), and plenty for spinners. Indian pitches lack the balance Australian pitches provide.
              Also in India winning the toss often means winning the game, this does not apply to the same level in Australia where losing the toss can often be a good thing as it frees the captain from making a difficult choice. No one bowls first in India, no one even considers it. In Australia people often consider bowling first, and sometime even do so.

              • January 6th 2015 @ 11:46am
                spruce moose said | January 6th 2015 @ 11:46am | ! Report

                But that has nothing to do with India doctoring pitches.

                Thats just the conditions. It is permanently humid and the cricket grounds are built on foundations of clay. What are you expecting? India can’t change the weather, and they aren’t going to re-lay the entire grounds with imported Australian soil.

                India haven’t doctored pitches for 60 years to they can be spin friendly. The climate dictates they will be.

              • January 6th 2015 @ 5:43pm
                Bomb78 said | January 6th 2015 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

                I think it was Ricky Ponting that suggested doing away with the toss in test matches and letting the visiting captain the option to bat or bowl first. The argument being it would go someway to reducing the home ground advantage of doctored pitches.
                Spruce Moose – Indian wickets aren’t doctored? How many time do we see a lifeless strip of rolled dirt surrounded by what looks like a billiard table quality field? If there is enough water to keep the outfield green the only reason you produce a dust bowl wicket is because you want to.

            • January 6th 2015 @ 6:45pm
              ozinsa said | January 6th 2015 @ 6:45pm | ! Report

              Watch a little IPL and see just how different in pace and bounce the Indian decks can be. MJ fired for Mumbai Indians on green decks that kick-started his renaissance prior to the last Ashes.

              We clearly doctored the tracks last year to ensure every wicket had more bounce than usual. India and England patently ensured that the tracks in the earlier series were as brown and slow as possible.

              Doctoring goes on, it’s accepted. The article isn’t a whinge about juicing up or flattening tracks it’s pointing out that we didn’t do that this summer. Seems an obvious call to me.

        • January 6th 2015 @ 10:18am
          Craig said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:18am | ! Report

          Good article ronan. Doctoring wickets involves influence by cricket administrators – such as the road at the Oval in 2005 when Australia needed to win to retain the ashes.

          Wickets that play true to their nature is good, healthy test cricket, and unfortunately the gabba and mcg wickets have been a bit flat and less bouncy than usual.

    • Roar Guru

      January 6th 2015 @ 3:16am
      Sam Brown said | January 6th 2015 @ 3:16am | ! Report

      I dunno how I feel about this because I really dislike the practice of doctoring pitches to suit your own home sides, always seems very unfair to me,even bordering on unsportsmanlike.

      I would personally that each country try to have a myriad of different pitches some favouring batsmen, some pace, some swing, some spin so each series tests both teams ability to win in different conditions. I feel like this is what at least Australia and England used to be like but for various reasons aren’t really any more.

      However if we accept that the perfect world won’t happen and that we will have pitches doctored should we do it ourselves despite it being a negative part of the game?

      • Columnist

        January 6th 2015 @ 3:38am
        Ronan O'Connell said | January 6th 2015 @ 3:38am | ! Report

        I don’t think countries preparing pitches that suit the home side is unfair unless it is done to an extreme. In this case it’s not about asking for all the Aussie decks this summer to be zinging through at throat height off a length. It’s about having the Gabba and the MCG stay true to recent history in giving help to the quicks. That’s what Johnson and Harris are clearly peeved about.

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2015 @ 3:47am
          Sam Brown said | January 6th 2015 @ 3:47am | ! Report

          I’d say the subcontinent and Caribbean of old are most guilty of taking it a tad too far but maybe that is my perception as an Australian fan.

          I honestly just like pitches that offer a bit to the bowlers be they spin or pace, makes for far more engaging cricket than a flat track batsmen can just dominate on.

          Look at the Adelaide test, if it wasn’t for the fanfare around Phil Hughes then the first four days would have been classed as pretty forgettable, sure some of the guys scored some runs but it really wasn’t much of a contest.

          However on the fifth when Nathan Lyon was suddenly able to squeeze some turn out of the footmarks the cricket became instantly engaging and the feats of the batsmen far more admirable.

          • January 7th 2015 @ 8:57am
            Alex said | January 7th 2015 @ 8:57am | ! Report

            Although those footmarks were from I. Sharma bowling around the wicket and Johnson bowling over the wicket. He has been quite poor for the rest of the series.

        • January 10th 2015 @ 9:44am
          Ruminate said | January 10th 2015 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          You mean like Emgland did with their last ashes series?

          The country most guilty of doctoring pitches is the UK cricket team ( how can they be an ‘English team’ when an Irishman is their one day captain and they include Welsh and Scottish players at their whim?)

          Indian pitche’s are variants of the same type of pitches, if you tour their you know what you are going to get. The same for SA, Sri Lanka, the UAE, NZ, Bangladesh, and The West Indies, the latter give or take a little random under preparation at time that might see the pitch being set on fire!

          You would argue that this years Australian pitches, Adelaide aside, are the ones that are not typical and have been ‘doctored’ but strangely not in favour of the home side…Cynicism prevails on this….is it BCCI intervention or merely CA not wanting any 3 day test matches so as to maximise TV and match revenue streams? The truth is potentially somewhere in between these 2 suppositions…

      • January 6th 2015 @ 8:34am
        b said | January 6th 2015 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Every test pitch should have something for the batsman, something for the quicks, and something for the spinners, but they should also have their own personality. This is what Australian pitches naturally have, without trying to doctor pitches to suit our bowlers. The problems occur when people try to remove the individual personalities of pitches to created standardised pitches, which inevitably means roads for lots of boundaries especially for the short form games.

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2015 @ 9:05am
          Tim Holt said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:05am | ! Report

          I would suggest this is what Australian pitches ‘USED’ to have, the only pitch that has an inkling of its past identity is Adelaide

          The GABBA does on occasion, like last year in the AShes, and in the test against NZ, was that 2011, but, there have been dreadful roads there, as seen against RSA and the Ashes in 10

          the WACA is one of the games greatest tragedies, with it now resembling a batting paradise akin to the Adelaide oval, just with a bit more pace and bounce. Nothing on its proud heritage from the 70’s when it had real pace and bounce. The MCG is a drop in these days, so liquorice all sorts, compared to the minefield it once was between say 79-82. And do we really want to mention Sydney?

          Gone from a real spinners deck to a mystery every year

          • January 6th 2015 @ 10:22am
            Craig said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:22am | ! Report

            Tim, your comments on the Waca were true previously, but for the past 5 years the pitches have been back to their traditional bouncy nature.

            • January 6th 2015 @ 10:49am
              Tim said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:49am | ! Report

              Craig, not to how i remember a traditional WACA pitch

            • January 6th 2015 @ 1:41pm
              Nudge said | January 6th 2015 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

              I’d agree with that Craig. The last 3 or 4 tears the Waca has really got its pace and bounce back. But your right Tim, it certainly lost its edge for a few years there.

              • January 10th 2015 @ 9:47am
                Ruminate said | January 10th 2015 @ 9:47am | ! Report

                Wasn’t their an issue in sourcing the particular type of soil used for the WACA deck? It’s good to see it back but I missed a WACA test this year….feeling short changed. IToo be interesting to see what happens with the new stadium being built and what happens with the WACA

          • January 6th 2015 @ 10:38am
            b said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:38am | ! Report

            The personality went out of Australian pitches because of the desire for boundaries, especially in the short form game. A few years ago people wised up to it and there was a change trying to maintain the individual personalities. Hopefully that movement has not died.

    • January 6th 2015 @ 4:00am
      Andrew said | January 6th 2015 @ 4:00am | ! Report

      Australian pitches used to be some of the best variety in the world so where are they? WACA had the fast pacy wicket, Adelaide had the flat deck for batting, MCG was renowned for its uneven bounce late in the test, SCG was Australia’s spin wicket and the GABBA had the bouncy wicket. These pitches have been known to be like this for as long as i can remember so why change them? I have been extremely disappointed that all i have seen is drop in pitches that have all been lifeless in nature and believe that all that has been wanted for this series is the game to last out 5 days for ratings. Bring back the old variety that has made Australia the most unique place to play cricket.

      • January 6th 2015 @ 9:25am
        AR said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        Agreed. The variety in Australian wickets is something that was truly unique.

        Going from the WACA to the SCG, in one country, is truly bizarre.

        Even with refurbs and “upgrades”, it’s important that we try to maintain the character of each ground.

        • January 6th 2015 @ 9:50am
          Sideline Comm. said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:50am | ! Report

          Well said. It’s a great shame we are losing that tradition of varied pitches, not to mention the fact it is negatively impacting both our batting and bowling skills.

        • January 6th 2015 @ 10:39am
          b said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          The personality of pitches should be heritage listed like other fixtures that give grounds their personalities:)

      • January 6th 2015 @ 10:33am
        Gremlins said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:33am | ! Report

        The use of cricket grounds by football has decimated cricket pitches. We can’t have delicate AFL players hurting themselves on a hard centre at the MCG, now can we? So it’s a drop-in. Delivers a soft landing for footballers and a less-than-traditional pitch for cricket.

        • January 6th 2015 @ 12:59pm
          AR said | January 6th 2015 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

          Yep, in a perfect world, every single sport (and every individual club for that matter) would have a perfectly sized modern stadium to itself, with no other tenants, perfect grounds and surfaces, cheap drinks and free food.

          But that world doesn’t exist, so here’s the reality – the *only* reason our cricket grounds can still exist and be beneficiaries of funding for maintenance/upgrades is because the AFL pays for them during winter.

          Cases in point – Adelaide Oval and the SCG.

          The alternative is the WACA, which, since the AFL left, is fast becoming an extinct cricket ground.

          • Roar Guru

            January 6th 2015 @ 1:09pm
            Paul Dawson said | January 6th 2015 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            Well said. To cricket’s credit though no-one of any import within the sport has complained about drop-in wickets, probably because they know full well it’s a war they can’t win. As you say, the WACA is entirely funded by cricket and look at the state of it. The contrast between it and Adelaide couldn’t be starker.

        • January 6th 2015 @ 10:07pm
          Alicesprings said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:07pm | ! Report

          So I take it you’ve never played footy on a ground with a cricket square in the middle??

          Both Melbourne and Adelaide produced good quality test..funny that they had drop in pitches hey?

          There will be some serious pressure on wa cricket to move to the new stadium once it’s finished. That will just leave the gabba and scg with cricket squares.

        • January 10th 2015 @ 9:56am
          Ruminate said | January 10th 2015 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          The MCG was an atrocious pitch and barely test standard for quite a while in the 70’s/80’s. No facts to support it but there is probably less footy played on it now than there was then, given under 19’s, seconds and seniors games used to occur on it every Saturday, plus training. Did you ever see the centre square in Melbourne in winter during a then VFL season? Do you realise how long it took for the grass to grow back for the Sheffield Shield season after the AFL grand final…its not all about the AFL…it was about the cricket pitches otherwise you’d see a drop in at all AFL grounds.

      • January 6th 2015 @ 10:42am
        jamesb said | January 6th 2015 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        Very well said Andrew. There really is a lack of variety of pitches in Australia. You want variety of pitches to reflect the away pitches globally.And I think its one of the main reasons why we struggle to win away from home.

      • January 9th 2015 @ 3:47pm
        Stephan said | January 9th 2015 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

        I think that the lack of variety in Australian pitches contributes to Australia’s stuggle to win away from home. Previously the shield cricket would expose Australian batsmen and bowlers to a range of conditions, be it spinning, fast or slow pirches. Now that we have more or less the same drop in pitches for every ground, we stuggle overseas when exposed to something different. Bring back the variety!

    • January 6th 2015 @ 6:32am
      Gav said | January 6th 2015 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      Thanks Ronan, good article that needed to be written.

      Are there dark influences at work, that determined the venues?
      Are the pitches being reverse doctored to accomodate certain ‘powerful’ groups?

      Certainly you can smell the work of Marketers in all forms of cricket these days
      Flat lifeless pitches, decreasing boundry sizes, and bats that seem to have springs in them.
      All reducing the contest between bat and ball…..high scores and boundaries the order of the day, not to mention in tests (as you point out) ensuring 5days af cricket.

      I don’t blame any of the bowlers for being upset, the pitches are taking many of their skills out of the game. I haven’t seen any quality swing bowling, or seam this series and I don’t blame the bowlers.
      But the flat track bully is the hero of the day! Disappointing to cricket lovers.

      No wonder Smith batted India out of the game in Melbourne.

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