Featherbeds are futile

Ground staff clean the pitch before the start of the final day’s play of the first Test of the Future Cup series between India and South Africa at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai. The wicket was a bowler’s nightmare.-M. KARUNAKARAN

The pitch is an integral part of the game, and as such the quality of pitches needs to be good if a game of cricket has to provide real entertainment to the public.

The one aspect that is discussed in depth in cricket is umpiring. In fact, this aspect adds to the charm of the game in as much as it triggers heated arguments and humorous remarks. However, in recent times the discussions somehow have gravitated towards the pitches on which matches are played, be it at the national or international levels.

The pitch is an integral part of the game, and as such the quality of pitches needs to be good if a game of cricket has to provide real and not perceived entertainment to the public. The one-dayers provide a lot of entertainment to the public but the pitches that the Indians and Kiwis played on was by no means a good one, in the sense that runs were scored with consummate ease. The plethora of runs in fact dilutes the value of the deeds.

Since the start of the millennium if not earlier, the pitches have more or less been extremely flat. And with the boundaries being shortened, the bowlers have been reduced to mere scapegoats. This was done with a view to standardising the playing conditions but the shorter version of the game is becoming a predictable affair though some innovative changes have been brought into effect to try and stem its predictability. Despite the administrators doing their best, the ODIs are on the verge of losing out to the T20 format. However, the administrators, in their eagerness to keep both the shorter formats in vogue with the public, have overlooked the most important aspect of cricket — quality pitches.

The decline in the quality of pitches can contribute to the decline of cricket, and the case in point is West Indies where the game has waned considerably as the pitches have deteriorated progressively. Brian Lara, the former West Indian skipper, had cried hoarse about the sub-standard pitches during his career but the administrators paid no heed to his warnings.

The ignominy that the cricket administrators in Antigua suffered recently is like a wake-up call for the other nations and unless the administrators pay heed to the warning signals, there is every chance that the quality of the game will be compromised sooner or later. Of course, the game will survive and international fixtures will carry on, but when the quality of cricket dips steeply, mediocrity will be elevated to greatness and that will be a pity.

There is some merit in the ICC wanting pitches across the world to be reasonably similar but I believe the idea behind this is to eradicate under-prepared pitches that the countries in the sub-continent sometimes dish out for Test matches. However, there is still room for every nation to retain its uniqueness when it comes to the nature of pitches that international matches are played on. The high scoring matches can become counter productive in that the public might become disinterested in seeing the batsmen flog the bowlers on a regular basis. The T20 format is all about boundaries and more boundaries, but the one-dayers should not be reduced to a wholesale slaughter of the bowlers on featherbeds in order to attract crowds.

The indifference of the administrators with regard to the pitches is percolating to the National level as well with hardly anything worthy of mention being done to enhance the quality of cricket. The pitches right through the current domestic season were ordinary to say the least and though the BCCI has a pitches committee in place, it is the same old story of old wine in a new bottle. The pitches committee does meet quite often but evidently, theoretical knowledge is not utilised to produce tangible results. The committee should realise that it has a very important role to play in the development of the game and work towards improving the quality of pitches across the country.

The reason why South Africa and Australia provide a formidable bunch of players on a regular basis is due to the high quality of pitches used in their domestic circuit. Agreed that the current Indian squad is on the verge of becoming the No. 1 team in the world, but that is definitely not due to the quality of pitches in India.

Going back to the pitches in Australia and South Africa, every major centre has its unique quality and the curators ensure that they retain the core nature of the surface, come what may. For example, the pitches at Kingsmead and Sydney have been consistent with regard to their basic nature. The ball jags around even today in Kingsmead as it has been since the early 1990s, while the spinners look forward to playing at the SCG just as they had been for more than two decades.

The curators in Australia have the task of rolling out the pitches from the centre during winter and despite the pitches being nurtured elsewhere, they have managed to maintain the high quality year in and year out. I am not suggesting that the curators in Australia are more capable than our own, but our curators need to work with a sense of immense pride, for their role is extremely critical not only for the development of the game in the country but also for the enhancement of the stature of Indian cricket.