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Pitch Please…..What’s All The Fuss About

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While the 3rd Test Match between India and England was one of the most entertaining games of cricket in recent memory, it was also the shortest Test Match since World War II. Every ball kept you glued to your screens but the game lasted all of five sessions with only 387 runs scored in the entire match (less than the total number of runs in the New Zealand vs Australia T20 International that took place simultaneously). With such a shortened game, the pitch used in the third test (and the Chennai pitch) came under some serious criticism from fans and ex-players. Many believe that the underprepared surface had excessive assistance for spinners which didn’t create a fair contest between bat and ball.

While the pitch was not great, the internet reaction has been magnified and it is important to understand why the Ahmedabad Test resulted in such a shortened game. This was only the 2nd game played in India with the pink ball and the first time that it was used in dry conditions that assist the spinners. The feedback from the players has been that the Pink SG Ball had some part to play in the dramatic collapses from both teams. To protect the hardness of the pink ball, extra layers of lacquer are added so the ball keeps its shape. This plastic coating prevents it from going soft and makes it skid on after it pitches on the surface. This is why bowlers like Axar Patel and Jack Leach who are faster through the air and accurate, had so much success on this wicket. It’s also why the arm ball (the ball that does not turn) was so successful.

Also, the seam of the pink ball is black which is different to pick up for a batsman’s trained eye and makes it trickier to understand which ball is turning and which isn’t. The Pink SG ball may have had some part to play and could explain why 21 of the 30 wickets fell to deliveries that just went straight. Other reasons for this shortened game include the high-standard of bowling, poor display of batting and the effect DRS technology has had on playing spin. All these factors combined along with the dry conditions created a perfect storm which led to this shortened game in Ahmedabad.

Now onto the pitch, which seems to be making the main talking point. Ex-players like Michael Vaughan, Mark Waugh and Rob Key have criticized the surface while Kevin Pietersen, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin have all defended the playing conditions. Opinions have been flying around on social media for the past week but in this discussion, the pertinent question we need to ask is what exactly is a good pitch in test match cricket. 

The ICC has been incredibly vague in terms of what a good pitch should be in tests which has muddied the waters. As Ashwin alluded to in the clip above there are some preconceived notions that a good pitch in subcontinent conditions is where the bat rules day’s one and two and then spin comes into play only on days three and four onwards. In reality that has never been specified in the rules and what the regulations actually state is illustrated below.

These are the most recent regulations from the ICC Pitch monitoring rating system and can be used to classify the Ahmedabad pitch. I think we can all agree this wasn’t a great surface and shouldn’t be classed as “Very Good” or “Good”. For a pitch to be rated as “Average” the conditions specifically state that there “should be a degree of turn but with average bounce for the spinner.” A poor pitch on the other hand is when “the pitch offers excessive assistance to spin bowlers, especially early in the match.” However, there are some clarifications regarding the same.

The clarifications state that “it is acceptable for a pitch to offer some degree of turn in the subcontinent, though anything other than occasional unevenness of bounce at this stage of the match is not acceptable.” Also, they state “it is impossible to quantify the amount that a ball is allowed to turn as bowlers will turn a ball with differing amounts.”

Hence the conclusion can be drawn that in India especially, some degree of turn is allowed (although the amount is unspecified) while the main contentious issue is uneven bounce. The Ahmedabad pitch did offer some degree of turn from ball one but the bounce was more or less consistent. Other than the occasional delivery nothing jagged up off a length or kept low. It was more the spin or lack of spin on the straight deliveries that hurt batsman rather than the bounce. Thus, under ICC regulations, it may be unlikely that this is classed as a poor pitch. 


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However, as this pitch debate unfolds, I think the more important question we need to ask is why are we discussing this. Why is it that the pitch is central to our conversation instead of Ashwin’s 400 milestone, Axar’s impeccable debut series or the fact that England selected Broad, Archer and Anderson for this test, on a turning track! Why is it that if a Test ends in 3 days in New Zealand or England you never hear complaints about too much seam or swing or that the groundsman left too much grass on the wicket. The main topic of conversation is how to play the moving ball and the technical deficiencies of the batsman with regards to playing away from your body or not knowing where your off-stump is.

No one raised an eyelid about the pitches on India’s tour to New Zealand when the two tests lasted a combined total of five days. The ICC even gave both pitches on that tour a rating of “Good” and “Very Good”. It is just accepted that in SENA countries the ball will seam, swing, bounce and carry from day one.

But when a game ends quickly in Asian conditions the discussions have to be about how dry the pitch was rather than the lack of footwork from the English batsman and their incessant desire to sweep their way out of trouble. This conditioning needs to change. The ball is allowed to turn, and the batsman is allowed to counter it. Pitches in India will spin and the sooner that fact is accepted, the better chance touring teams will have. The pitch was not a disgrace as people in the UK are stating and it wasn’t a paradise to bat on as Virat Kohli said in the post-match presentation. It was however an immense challenge, and that’s what made it exciting – it is after all TEST Cricket – the most grueling test, mentally, physically and in terms of skill!


[Image Credit: ANI]