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Much ado about pitches

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After a victorious outing at the Home of Cricket, the touring Indians were high on hopes. Such a situation hadn’t been encountered for quite a while, with losses being even more common than draws. But what transpired later on in the series was just as mind boggling. The Indians started the series in startling fashion with solid displays in the first two tests. The next three were disasters. Green tops tailor-made for the English quicks exposed the Indians’ shortcomings with the swinging ball, and familiar cries of ‘Lions at home, lambs abroad’ were heard with several ‘pundits’ lambasting the same team which gave the English a run for their money not so long ago.

Is the Indian Cricket team the only team that has fared poorly abroad? No. Is the Indian Cricket team the only ones to be whitewashed by England and Australia, two sides which possessed some of the finest players of this generation? No. Is the Indian Cricket team the first to struggle on pitches that didn’t favor them? No.

Then why is there such a lot of hullaballoo every time an Indian team doesn’t fare well, be it at home or abroad?

Lions at home, Lambs abroad.

The Ashes this year was one of the most keenly awaited series of modern times, yet what took place was something not even the wildest dreamers would’ve expected. After a near perfect game at Lord’s, the Aussies looked clueless and helpless as they tumbled one after another, the final nail in the coffin being when a rampant Stuart Broad shot out the World Champions for a meek 60. Sixty runs.

Four years back, at Newlands, the Aussies were on the wrong side of one of the greatest team bowling performances as Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel finished them off for 47. 13 runs less than the most recent debacle.

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The contrasting fortunes of the two teams in the Ashes underlines the importance of home conditions in bilateral contests. In all the aforementioned contests, the sides playing at ‘home’ came out on top with some conviction.

 

The recent uproar on the condition of the pitch in Mohali amazes me. When an Indian team goes to England, do they get flat wickets which assist the spinners? No. The English provide damp pitches with lots of grass to support swing and that suits their pace bowlers perfectly. The same applies to the Kiwis. In Australia, you can see hard, bouncy wickets which are suited for fast, menacing bowling and assist batsmen who cut and pull well. The conditions in South Africa are quite similar. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh- all offer turners which assist their slower bowlers right from day one. Yet, when an Indian team plays on a pitch favoring them, all kinds of nonsensical arguments (which, to be very honest, make no sense at all) are raised.

Let us take the example of the last One Dayer at Wankhede, between the visiting South Africans and the Indians. The previous encounter at Chennai saw the home side get a decisive advantage as the pitch suited their style of cricket. The regular arguments of ‘India winning only because the pitch’ were raised. The story at Wankhede was quite different. It was a flat track providing good carry, with little or no assistance to the spinners, that was laid out - and the result was decided at the toss itself.

A plethora of records were broken as Quinton de Kock, Faf Du Plessis and AB De Villiers helped themselves to well deserved centuries. After the match, the ‘critics’ again criticized the Indians of not winning even at home. Quite baffling I say.

Now, shifting our focus to Tests: it is almost guaranteed that the home team wins the Test. The proportion of tests being won by home teams has been steadily rising since the 1980’s with over a fifty percent success rate for home teams today. To put that into perspective, if a team plays a 5 test series at home, it is almost guaranteed that the home side wins at least 2. An excellent example for the same is this years’ Ashes when England did one better and won 3 out of the 5 matches in the series.

A crucial point in the series was the Test at Lords where Australia outplayed England in every department. A Steven Smith double century brought back the Englishmen to their senses.

For the next two Tests, England coach Trevor Bayliss, an Australian himself, got his way for the "typical English seaming wicket". Bayliss and his team were delighted to see the pitch at Edgbaston as it was ‘their’ kind of pitch, and Australia's batting crumbled for a miserly 136 and 265. The matters became even worse in the next Test at Trent Bridge as the Australian batsmen had no answer to Stuart Broad and co., and were routed for 60 and 253 respectively. The story dramatically changed as Australia went from 566 for 8 to 60 all out. That says it all, doesn’t it? The change of fortunes for the Englishmen could be attributed to multiple factors but one single factor still outweighs them- the pitch.

Another factor is the advent of T20 leagues round the world. With a series of T20 leagues and a World T20 being played every two years, time (or a lack of it, rather) has become a crucial factor in cricket today. A cramped calendar ensures that the touring party gets very little time to get accustomed to conditions that they aren’t really familiar with. This paves the way for the home team to prepare pitches that favor themselves, making it a decisive advantage for them.

Also, a camped up schedule ensures that the time in between two tests is limited, hardly 3-4 days at most. This really isn’t enough for a bowler, like Mitchell Johnson for example, who has bowled around 50-60 overs in a game to recuperate. To take 20 wickets in a game, a team needs their bowlers at their best level of fitness, but with such little time to get ready for the next game, it is humanly impossible for a bowler to be at his best the next game.

To conclude, I’d like to say that home teams offering pitches which favors their bowlers is nothing but common sense. It’s high time we gave our team, especially our bowlers, this advantage if we want to win a Test at home.

 


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A science student by day (hopefully) and a writer by accident. I passionately blog about Cricket, f...

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