Barren pitches, scrouge of Tests

Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium surface invites sharp criticism from all quarters

Barren pitches, scrouge of Tests

As if it isn’t bad enough that existing regulations have severely clipped the wings of the bowlers and are loaded heavily in favour of the batsmen, you have featherbeds like the Motera track that drive the best bowlers in the business to despair.

Indeed, Test cricket’s most prolific wicket-taker, Muttiah Muralitharan, was rendered completely ineffective by the placid pitch, even if he wasn’t the only one to suffer that fate. Close to 1600 runs were amassed over five days, only 21 wickets were lost, as many as seven centuries recorded. Even contest? Forget it!

Test cricket’s future does not lie in batathons where the bowlers’ only role is to take unadulterated punishment. Fans flock the limited-overs games for wholesome entertainment, for the fours and sixes that cascade with regularity, but Test cricket’s charm lies in the ebbs and flows of the game, the fascinating oscillation of the pendulum.

If, after five days, the result is a tame, listless, uninspiring draw, fans already disillusioned with the Test format will continue to give it the miss. A recent MCC survey showed that only seven percent of Indian fans enjoyed the longer version, and India has produced more draws than any other Test-hosting country in the last few years, reasons for avoiding shirtfronts like the one at Motera.
In no other sport does the playing surface evoke as much attention or generate as much debate. In some ways, that adds to the beauty of cricket – batsmen and bowlers alike are required to adjust and adapt to different conditions, to different kinds of wickets, and success comes the way not just of the most talented but also the most versatile.

Not, however, on tracks like the one at Motera, where even eight full days of Test cricket wouldn’t have thrown up a result. There was absolutely nothing for the bowlers – no seam early on for the quicker bowlers, no bounce that both the pacers and spinners alike could have used, and no deterioration with the passage of time as Dhiraj Parsana, himself a left-arm spinner, produced a true batsman’s ally. Perhaps, the curator overcompensated after the disaster of last year when India were shot out for 76 inside 20 overs on day one against South Africa. Saying that, then skipper Anil Kumble had blamed that collapse on bad batting rather than a spiteful surface, so there really was no need for overcompensation.

“Our aim is to prepare a result-oriented wicket, but there are so many things which are not in our hands, like climatic conditions,” pointed out Parsana, aware that anything he said would sound like a lame excuse. “My only regret is that on the last two days of the match, there was no wear and tear. When we started preparing the wicket, the temperature was around 35 degrees Celsius, then it suddenly dropped to 30-31 and that didn’t help in the deterioration of the wicket as it should have.”
Even as late as on day five, not more than a dozen deliveries misbehaved over the entire six hours. For most of the time, the batsman could plonk his front foot down the track and hit through the line, secure in the knowledge that there would be no deviation after pitching, no sudden fizzing, spitting, turning missile to deal with.
Both Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara chose not to be too harsh on the curator’s production, at least in public. “I have seen flatter wickets than this,” the Indian skipper proclaimed, while his Lankan counterpart laughed it off by saying as a batsman, he couldn’t really complain.

“I wasn’t really surprised (at how the pitch played) because I wasn’t there for its preparation,” said Daljit Singh, the chairman of the Grounds and Pitches Committee. “Definitely, such wickets are detrimental to the future of Test cricket. Test cricket is facing a lot of competition from T20 and ODIs. A wicket like this, where no one has a chance of winning, doesn’t augur well.”

Mere lip service, it would appear. Bring on a dustbowl at least, we say. That’s the least the bowlers deserve after the mauling in Ahmedabad. If nothing else, we won’t be short on excitement!
DH News Service

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