What is the traditionalist’s view of what makes an ideal cricket pitch?
As I grew up watching cricket I came to understand what makes a surface that allows everybody in the team to fully participate. It seems to me that the ideal cricket pitch has an even cover of grass initially and on the first day has some moisture just under the surface. There is enough there to make the captain winning the toss briefly contemplate sending the opposition in to bat. After this brief contemplation he will decide to bat anyway.
In these conditions the first session is enthralling. The bowlers know that there will be something there to assist them, while the batsmen are aware that a torrid first session awaits them.
If the batting team is good enough, they will survive the first session relatively unscathed, and as the pitch settles they will have a more friendly batting track. Now the question will be: are they good enough to capitalise on the first use of the wicket? For the next two days the betting service will be good, while there is enough grass on the wicket to offer the bowlers some hope.
On Day 3 there will be a slight deterioration in the surface, yet batting will still be relatively straightforward. This will continue into Day 4, but by midafternoon there will be enough surface break-up to allow spin bowlers some encouragement. During Day 5 batting will become awkward against the turning and seaming ball. While it will be awkward, for those skilled in playing spin it will not be impossible. The highest calibre players can survive and can even school freely, particularly if there are fieldsmen crowding around the batting crease.
Such variations in the playing conditions of the pitch make for intriguing cricket, allowing all players to fully participate. That seems to me to be the ideal pitch.
If you accept this as being valid, then it sheds some interesting light on the three most recent seasons that the Indian cricket team have been involved in. First we had last season’s Test series against Australia in Australia. The services played on, particularly in the last two Tests, were rubbish. They may have fulfilled the ideal on the first three days, but there was no variation in the service on the fourth and fifth days and thus no discernible advantage for the team batting first.
There was no help for the bowling team on the final two days. The pitch surface remained as flat as a tack. Perhaps these pitches had been prepared too well, thus there was no deterioration. There should have been problems for the team batting last, which was India, but there were not.
Then we had the series in India between England and India. Apart from the first Test, the pitches served up were diabolical. For four Tests we had the ball turning almost square from Day 1 onwards. This is not how traditional cricket is played. Obviously the Indians were preparing pitches that suited their strengths. Most home teams do this to some extent. But the extent the Indians went to was ludicrous, and to their great credit the England management and captain rarely complained about the situation.
There was nothing particularly inviting watching the struggle between skilled spin bowlers and perplexed batsmen from Day 1. It was nonsense cricket from Day 1 of each of the four Tests.
The current series between England and India in England has been fascinating, and there has been a sense that every style of bowler has had a chance to excel. Batting has been challenging, but the good players have shone. The great players, such as Joe Root, have been exhilarating. I am sure Virat Kohli will perform well in the next two Tests.
Last season the Sydney wicket was officially confirmed as being inadequate. I wonder what the official view was of the wickets presented for Tests two to five in India? The English curators are leading the way this season, and the Australians and Indians should take note.