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)

    • Roar Guru

      January 6th 2015 @ 6:54am
      Tim Holt said | January 6th 2015 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      Agree the pitches were kind, but, I think Australia’s needs were at the forefront when they were made batting friendly, rather than India’s. I say this for with Australia’s batting looking paper thin in the lead up, made worse by the doubt over Clarke, they were never going to make ‘willing’ pitches because of the effect it might have on Australia’s batting. Keep in mind, even with these pitches, if it was not for Australia’s tail wagging to make the batting look respectable, the series might not be 2 nil now.

      So, my take is that they knew their bowling was much better, so, they would back themselves to win on flat pitches

      Also, i fear that the Hughes tragedy might have impacted too, for every time an unexpected tragedy happens the response is always reactionary. as we saw with calls to ban bouncers, improve helmets etc etc.

      I think that might have played a part in flat pitches too

      • January 6th 2015 @ 8:37am
        b said | January 6th 2015 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        India have always had strong batting, and weak bowling. If our batting was a concern, it would make more sense to create pitches that undermined India strengths, and boosted our strengths.

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2015 @ 8:43am
          Tim Holt said | January 6th 2015 @ 8:43am | ! Report

          I look at it the other way, it is better for the pitches to support our weakness, while at the same time prey on theirs.

      • Roar Rookie

        January 6th 2015 @ 9:37am
        Don said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        Tim, you are on to something.
        I think the “Phil Hughes tragedy” actually certainly did play a part in the wicket we saw at the Gabba but not because it was made benign on purpose.
        Just over a week before the first test we saw the series re-scheduled and Adelaide got a test a week early and the Gabba got the test a week or so later than planned.

        Timing of when the wicket would be “perfect” for test cricket was thrown into a spin. I think we have seen a Gabba pitch that despite the best efforts of the superb curators, wasn’t able to be cherry ripe and bouncy by the time the rescheduled test was played.

        • January 6th 2015 @ 9:43am
          Andrew said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:43am | ! Report

          So Sydney is going to be a boring flat road as well?

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2015 @ 12:01pm
          Andy_Roo said | January 6th 2015 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

          How long does it actually take to prepare a wicket? I heard a comment that it really only takes three days and if that is true then then both Adelaide and Brisbane wickets should have been able to be properly prepared for each game despite the re-scheduling.
          Adelaide played pretty much as it always has, perhaps didn’t turn as much late. It is the second year as a drop-in pitch.
          Brisbane wasn’t as lively as usual.
          Melbourne played pretty consistently in terms of bounce and the MCG pitch has been criticised in recent years for having too much uneven/low bounce.
          All in all I think the pitches haven’t been too far away from their traditional style and the perfect pitch is somewhere in between what we have had this year and what we have had in the past. I don’t think we need to over-react.

    • January 6th 2015 @ 7:23am
      Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2015 @ 7:23am | ! Report

      So Indian curators “doctor”, but Australians “prepare”?

      Come on Ronan – you’re better than that!

      • Editor

        January 6th 2015 @ 1:51pm
        Patrick Effeney said | January 6th 2015 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

        I don’t think he said that… I think he pretty candidly said Aussies doctored them for the Ashes last year.

        • Columnist

          January 6th 2015 @ 2:54pm
          Ronan O'Connell said | January 6th 2015 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

          Of course Australia have doctored wickets. Two summers ago when South Africa visited suddenly the fast Gabba deck was very docile…could that have had something to do with the fact South Africa had the far better pace attack and Australia’s batting was wobbly?

          • Roar Guru

            January 6th 2015 @ 3:05pm
            Paul Dawson said | January 6th 2015 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

            Not a new concept either – Allan Border used to complain that Perth tests against the West indies were like away games, and I think the curator there was sacked after the 1992/93 bloodbath when we lost in 3 days. Home teams wanting certain pitches and getting them has been going on for a long time.

            Do you think it’s the fact that it’s India touring, as to one of the reasons why the pitches are placid? Groundsmen under instruction not to be too nasty to the sacred cash cows? Desire to stretch the games out?

            It’s very disappointing if that’s the case, even partially. Short term I can understand the commercials behind it, but long term the game suffers as a contest. If teams are going to do it to us, in terms of pitch prep, I have no idea why we would take the moral high ground. Similar to not wanting to bowl doosras in this country because it’s ‘not cricket’. Principle doesn’t win you games.

            • January 6th 2015 @ 9:07pm
              soapit said | January 6th 2015 @ 9:07pm | ! Report

    • January 6th 2015 @ 7:25am
      Monday's Expert said | January 6th 2015 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Ronan, I think the flatter wickets for this series will have done Australia a favour in terms of the Ashes.

      What would be the point of a 4 nil flogging of India on nice juicy decks when, as you rightly point out, they should prepare to play on lifeless decks every time they journey overseas?

      The only green they’ll see in England will be out the windows of the team bus on the way to the ground.

    • January 6th 2015 @ 7:55am
      brian said | January 6th 2015 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      I disagree because on flatter pitches the better team wins or gets a draw. If the pitches had more in them India could bowl first and cause an upset. If you don’t agree with me try Mahela Jayawardene. On their last tour here he was disappointed there wasn’t a more lively wicket at Hobart. He said that on a seaming wicket they could win but on a flat pitch they would struggle to take 20 wickets.

      Yes India should have drawn in Adelaide and been only 1-0 down but in terms of winning a game their lesser bowlers need more help to win a game.

    • January 6th 2015 @ 8:01am
      jamesb said | January 6th 2015 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      The pitches have been way too flat and it has suited India to a tee. However, these pitches have also suited someone like Steve Smith. He has taken advantage of it by scoring over 500 runs so far in the series.

      Would Smith still score the amount of runs if there was more grass on the pitch?

      There needs to be a contest between bat and ball

    • January 6th 2015 @ 8:38am
      Duncan said | January 6th 2015 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      I have to disagree Ronan if the curators doctored the Gabba and Waca grounds to be as fast and bouncy as in previous years tests would be over on the third day which is the last thing test cricket in my opinion needs in this country
      I would say the lack of interest from the Brisbane public is probably the main reason it was made more docile
      Let’s not forget either that for ten years the Indians refused to tour Australia because amongst other reasons they had no desire to play on fast bouncy wickets and I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar threat was made prior to this tour

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