Pitches and glitches

Functionaries of the Krishna District Cricket Association inspect the condition of the pitch at the Indira Gandhi Municipal Corporation Stadium in Vijayawada on November 8, 2009, prior to the Ranji Trophy match between Andhra and Madhya Pradesh.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

It’s agreed that pitches in India have been on the slower and lower side in general. But now the BCCI has a pitches committee and it has the responsibility of enhancing the quality of pitches. It is a sad commentary that despite the BCCI’s intent to improve the quality of pitches, they have gone from bad to worse across the country.

The start of the 2009-10 Ranji season coincided with the one-day series between India and Australia. One expected that certain things that are critical to the improvement of domestic cricket would change, but unfortunately, the show goes on in the same vein as day follows night. It was evident during the one-day series that the Australians have more than a decent bench strength as they managed to beat India with more than a fair share of the second and probably third strin g players filling in for their regulars who were injured. While we all waste no time in appreciating their system and their bench strength, there are hardly any indications that steps are being taken to improve the standard of domestic Indian cricket, which happens to be the supply line for the National side. As one who has been following the domestic circuit for the last four seasons, the only thing that has been consistent is the poor quality of pitches, which have a direct bearing on the quality of cricket that is played.

Agreed that pitches in India have been on the slower and lower side in general. But now the BCCI has a pitches committee and it has the responsibility of enhancing the quality of pitches. It is a sad commentary that despite the BCCI’s intent to improve the quality of pitches, they have gone from bad to worse across the country. Of course, the terms good and bad are relative, but when matches are played on tracks on which neither the bowlers nor batsmen can really flourish, a first-class match turns out to be a meaningless exercise. It is not about a featherbed lasting the duration of the game, but when the bowlers struggle to get the ball to bounce waist high and one gets to see the ball from the bowler’s hand until it impacts the bat from about a 100 yards away, there is something seriously wrong. The implication is that the ball does not fizz after pitching rather than me boasting about my eyesight!

There are more questions than answers as the BCCI has shown every intent to improve the standard of cricket but sadly, the pitches committee, despite having regional heads, has not probably understood the importance of its role. Going by the quality of pitches for first-class matches, one wonders if the members of the pitches committee witness these matches and if they do so, what is it that they have done in the last four years. I am restricting myself to the last four years simply because I have seen pitches at several venues which are nowhere close to preparing the youngsters to the challenges of international cricket. It is interesting to see that the BCCI has turned the heat on bowlers who are guilty of chucking, but there is a temptation to wonder if the dead pitches could be one of the reasons for bowlers ‘modifying’ their actions in their effort to extract something extra to surprise the batsmen.

There is a great need for India to find some youngsters who can be groomed for the future as on one hand, even today the one-day team is dependant on Tendulkar to a large extent and on the other, the fabulous four will have to exit the stage at sometime or the other. But it will be extremely difficult for the selectors or other talent spotters to gauge the ability of cricketers based on what they do on the lifeless pitches in the domestic matches. The fact that some of our batsmen still are not comfortable with the short stuff in the shorter versions of the game should have been enough for realisation to dawn on the people in charge of pitches. If batsmen who have been there for a while are struggling at times, what chance will the younger lot have in Test cricket if they are brought up on pitches that do not test them enough? A case in point is Pujara, who despite churning out runs by the tons in domestic cricket struggled to cope with the short stuff against Agarkar and Kulkarni in the Ranji semifinal last year. There is no doubt that Pujara is talented and has immense appetite for runs, but he needs to play on better surfaces for him to be adequately prepared for the highest level. I am sure a lot of other youngsters who are in the radar of the selectors would agree with me on this.

I must stress here that my intent is not to have a go at the members of the pitches committee, but it is difficult to understand why things are at a standstill. It is about time that domestic cricket is played on decent surfaces and for this to happen the pitches committee needs to get going, as implementation is a richer cousin than mere intent. Unless and until we provide better surfaces we will be left to admire other nations and not be admired.