March 31, 2017

The pitches in India were great. Won't you agree, Australia?

Australians' tendency to reject turning and seaming pitches as good ones says a lot about their own culture
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The pitches for the India-Australia series offered opportunities for pace, spin and batsmanship to all shine in turns © Associated Press

When it comes to pitches, ideology, not fact, is often king.

The recent battle royale between India and Australia provided some of the most absorbing cricket we've seen for some time. As with any great drama, beneath the epic clash of tactics, skill and technique sat a circus of sub-plots, circumstance and intrigue which, as unpalatable as some of it seemed, is a naturally occurring phenomenon within the modern sporting theatre.

Central to it all was conjecture over the state of pitches. You could barely draw breath before another hot take bellowed about either the preparation or performance of each pitch, especially early in the series. Whether the product of previous perceived injustice, lazy stereotyping or basic fear, much of it came from Australia. And yet as we commence reflection on the series just gone, the only accurate conclusion we can draw from the relentless brouhaha is that as usual very few of us are adept at predicting the behaviour of wickets.

As the dying embers cede on this series, when you take it as a whole, the pitches played excellently. They just about offered equal opportunity for players of all persuasions to succeed at various points in the series, while simultaneously retaining the unique spirit of Indian conditions. The best players transcended their disadvantages; the weaker players fell prey to them. The wickets, in short, revealed much about both sides. As they should.

But this cynical correspondent doesn't anticipate a sea of magnanimity from the visitors as we now collectively pore over a clash for the ages. That's because cricketing dogma dies hard.

A political exchange from earlier this week may give some clues. Taking place in an entirely different world, veteran American broadcast journalist Ted Koppel delivered a composed, stinging rebuke to Fox News presenter Sean Hannity on live TV. Calmly rising above the din of Hannity's interruptions, Koppel found some clear air. He said "…you are very good at what you do. You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts." It was a solid point. Of course, the discussion was not about Bengaluru's sporting wicket, but it's difficult to avoid parallels between Koppel's insight and the attitudes of many Australians to foreign conditions. When it comes to pitches, ideology, not fact, is often king.

Flat pitches encourage noncompetitive cricket. Who wants that? © Associated Press

A few weeks ago I spoke with a former Australian Test player ahead of the series. Amid broad discussion on themes of flexibility, adaptability and foreign conditions, he relayed a story about a game at home at grade level where players arrived before play to find a wicket that had been impacted by some rain.

To his mind, the wicket did indeed contain a little more grass than normal. It would favour bowlers and somewhat diminish the opportunity for batsmen to really dominate. That said, there was nothing about the wicket that rendered it even close to dangerous. He watched as an opposition player - a current first-class player of some note - inspected the pitch and declared audibly and charmingly that it was f***ing terrible.

The player's team-mates, most of them junior in status, stood by murmuring in agreement. At grade level, a first-class player's view is usually sacrosanct. The former international grimaced and shook his head. Not because he was surprised, but because he wasn't. Such attitudes to wickets that aren't fast, hard and white were common amongst his peers, he said, and reveal much about Australia's own deep-seated ideology about the pitches they play on. The offender on this occasion was a batsman, of course.

It stands to reason though, doesn't it? We are, after all, agents of self-interest. The batsman who revels in a green wicket should have his head checked, and the opposite is true for the bowler. Yet in Australia, at least, we are more likely to collectively condemn a green wicket than a flat one, even if the latter offers a rare opportunity for seamers to succeed. It's a phenomenon that echoes at the highest level of the game too. We've all been on the receiving end of pre-game coverage where the camera pans to unveil a glistening white thing, overlayed by an anchor cooing over the "belter" that the groundsmen have prepared with wondrous skill. Flat pitches are beautiful, rank turners are not. Perhaps it's in the symmetry and aesthetics of it all; the flat pitch with the model-esque, blemish-free skin. It's a curious phenomenon, particularly given that the flat wickets usually elicit the rankest cricket of all.

Perhaps it's silly to dream for a day where we applaud the provision of a turning or seaming wicket. Where we applaud it not for its shiny beauty, but for its challenge. Where we avoid castigating conditions that don't immediately advantage our own. Where we embrace pitches that contrast with our own. Throughout this recent series we've seen matches where each of spin, pace and bat have dominated. And yet no particular proficiency was unfairly oppressed for too long - each was afforded opportunity to thrive were the exponent good enough. This is surely the aspiration of any collection of wickets throughout the world: to give due opportunity to all through variety, while allowing the very special amongst each cohort the chance to rise above adverse circumstances to announce themselves as a cut above.

Sam Perry is a freelance sportswriter and co-author of The Grade Cricketer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Raz2802 on April 3, 2017, 15:08 GMT

    MERVO my dear, again you've missed the point!

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    I was not asking you to give me "evidence" of poorly-rated pitches in India, in comparison to, outside the Subcontinent. It is something else which you failed to understand, because of your poor literary skill.

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    Btw, what is your (or that of the ICC's) definition of a "poor" pitch? A spinning track - and on which the match ends in 3 days or thereabouts? What about non-spinning tracks on which matches ends in the same duration?

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    They are very, very RICH, isn't?

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    Is this the lop-sided criterion you entertain? And based on which you are giving me evidences of "Poor pitch construction" in India?

  • ELECTRIC_LOCO_WAP4_IS_DELUDED on April 2, 2017, 17:33 GMT

    CRICFAN21761974: The last time South Africa produced a bowler friendly pitch for India in Jo'burg 2006, they lost the Test. South Africa and Australia will continue to produce flat pitches because India's seamers struggle to take wickets on flat pitches.

  • CurrynOz on April 2, 2017, 13:35 GMT

    @DAVID_BOFINGER, The final test pitch should never been repeated in India for non-subcontinental opposition! There should be zero and I repeat zero help for visiting paceman on our pitches !! Now That is a real good pitch !!

  • OldAdam on April 2, 2017, 12:16 GMT

    Excellent article. I hope someone at the ECB has read it. Fans of county cricket don't care if a game lasts four days or not. What we'd like to see are more results and more opportunity for spin bowlers to learn their craft. The only bad pitch is a dangerous pitch.

  • cricfan3766181931 on April 2, 2017, 12:00 GMT

    Look as an aussie i do here alot of whining about turning decks the only real bad1 i seen was when m clarke got 6/9 and cmon no1 can argue that but i dont realy whinge myself bout it just dont whine when ya play our 4 quicks at gabba u lucky u will probably never play at waca again but most of yall might wanna practice short balls or wear mattresses out in the middle

  • Mervo on April 2, 2017, 11:35 GMT

    @ RAZ2802 please read my last post again. The evidence was there. Poor pitch construction in India = 5 in the last few years. Australia = 0

  • cricfan21761974 on April 2, 2017, 9:53 GMT

    Hopefully when India tours SA , CSA does not cower away from producing the green mambas and the lawns of the past at the risk of hurting the BCCI's feelings. Since the 2000s the pitches dished out for India have been more flat than anything. CSA please bring out the pitches of old SA were given horrendous pitches 2015 nowhere near the standard of pitches that were prepared for Aus, Eng or Nz... Even a blind man would have seen the difference.

  • .ELECTRIC_LOCO_WAP4. on April 2, 2017, 7:45 GMT

    Many readers are wasting their time in debating what a good pitch is.

    AS OF NOW

    Isn't it pretty clear? As we had read so far from hundreds of posts in these forums!

    A GOOD PITCH IS THE ONE WHICH FAVORS YOUR TEAM & A BAD PITCH IS THE ONE WHICH IS UNFAVORABLE!

    Isn't it as simple as that.

    But let us not forget that the original norms were founded by the founding fathers in England, and it is only natural that they were framed keeping the English conditions in mind.

    Those who keep on talking the old norms as the right norms, should remember, 2 things.

    1. FOUR members in the ICC from SC are spin oriented.

    2. Pretty soon half of the test playing nations will be predominantly spin oriented. Many, who are knocking on the doors of ICC include (5) Afghanistan, (6) Nepal, (7) Singapore, (8) Malaysia. (9) UAE and so on. Even (10) WI is changing; ask Naraine, Nurse & Co.

    Forcing what suits, JUST 4, on 10 others in the near future smacks of, "you know-what"? Need to spell it out?

  • memoriesofthepast on April 2, 2017, 5:17 GMT

    BCCI has allowed Indian cricketwomen to play in WBBL & foreign leagues. How is that ? Any players of current English team (not retired or unselected) who are playing in Sheffield Shield or South African super sports series? Hope that English cricket board &BCCI take proper action to ensure that their teams take righteous home advantage vs each side touring to their land. Yes Cricket seasons of India,Aus &SA run in parallel. Why only IPL should be kept in april-may? Can it not be that alternatingly BBL or Ram Slam be kept in April and IPL played in dec-jan if domestic commitment is reason of unavailability of foreign player?Playing in 5 teams of IPL has surely made Steve Smith confident of batting on indian pitches,3centuries in BG series show that. T20 is so popular in India that IPL will do good business even in absence of foreign players.

  • TestCricketTHERealCricket on April 2, 2017, 4:33 GMT

    @ Chris P, I didn't mean to undervalue Smith. He may not be class batsman (aesthetics), but a superb run machine. But. he got the lucky breaks he needed, and he utilized them fully. Regarding catches, I think so both teams dropped same no of catches. Remember Warner was reprieved so many times? Just an example. Regarding wickets, India took 76 and Aus 67 or something. Ultimately wickets mattered. Collectively, Indian bowlers were better. Aus pacers really bowled well, but their spinners couldn't match Indian counterparts except for first match and that's what cost Aus. So that nullifies the dropped catches factor. Series was competitive and great to watch, but not that close , you wanna suggest. Anyways my basic point was the Aussie mindset of best pitch. If it has bounce, supports fast bowlers first few days and spinners only on fifth then it's great. It's like spinners are third class citizens and to demean the subcontinent pitches all the times. That's something to ponder upon. I didn't say Pune was good pitch or something like that. Let's call spade a spade. I really love the bouncy pitches but also

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