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Likely Impact Of The Lively Pitches On Waking Up Test Matches

September 13, 2015

Ishant-Sharma

Prior to Team India’s latest tour to Sri Lanka, I don’t remember a single test series which had a different storyline to utter in terms of its predictability. The home team would come up with the same old ploy every time – win the toss, elect to bat, put runs on the board, see whether you can sneak in a first innings lead or not, extend the lead up to whatever little extent you can and leave the rest for Muttiah Muralitharan. The spin wizard thereby would latch onto the 4th or 5th day turning track where a few balls take off the crack while some other stay low. As a consequence predicting the remainder becomes like recalling the (a+b)2 formula, which even the dumbest boy of the class never forgets.

If the above had been the prime key to the Lankans’ test success at home, the lack of dynamicity in the same denied them many times when they headed overseas. Perhaps they are not the aliens in the arena when we talk about sticking to more or less one dimensional test match plans. But as the pitches have slightly come alive over the past couple of years it is definitely asking a few questions. Nevertheless it is one of those rarest breakthroughs that we get to witness in this format in long intervals. Flat pitches were one of the reasons that pushed the people away from the game of white shirt and red ball. But playing under the lively conditions may well claim its way on pulling a fair amount of crowd back.

Talking about Sri Lanka, on realizing that they will have to bat in the 4th innings, they would usually made the most of the third day which is often considered to be the batting paradise under the sub-continental conditions. But when they went up in the series, what they used to do is that in spite of being on 600-4 or so, they would still keep batting for an extra session or two. They were never bothered to show any urgency of declaring just to ensure that the test is definitely going to be a draw. Such a defensive strategy has been often highly criticized. It doesn’t abide by the spirit of the modern game either as nobody likes to make an investment of 5 days’ time for a draw. However in the latest series I was highly surprised when I saw a different pitch in every match, which might not have helped Sri Lanka’s cause, but surely made the series worth watching.

Great advertisements for tests are those matches which have all the 3 probable results possible till the final session of the match. To make that happen the most important thing is to have an even stevens assistance for both the batsmen and the bowlers. Flooding runs doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good outcome. Even a triple century doesn’t make any sense unless it ends up in winning cause. What is good in playing on greentops is that the ball has a better carry and it comes onto the bat well, hence an ideal platform for stroke-play. But more importantly at the same time as the ball moves around, it also gives the bowlers a better opportunity to pick up wickets. The reason to watch test cricket is to see how a batsman resists himself from playing shots and how a bowler reacts after being hit for a couple of flashy drives. Thus it is a not only the test of one’s patience and skill, but also test of his character.

Sometimes it is very easy to criticize someone like Ishant Sharma and saying what he has been doing over the years! But one should go back and rethink that how much favor of the pitch he had to bowl with. At times as a bowler it is hard to keep your focus going having known the fact that the pitch doesn’t have anything for you to offer. And suddenly when a naturally aggressive fast bowler is asked to become more of a line-length bowler, one can’t really blame the bowler for that. We should consider ourselves very lucky that the flat pitch theory did not entirely medicate his bowling towards death. He has lately put up some good shows inspired by the conditions to win the confidence of his captain back and reestablished himself as a frontline new ball bowler. India have been searching for a pace bowling spearhead for a long time and it seems like they have finally got one in form of the in-form Ishant. Hence with the lively pitches worldwide, many bowlers who got abolished from the scenes can make a revival to their test career.

Probably it’s time to refine some old theories too. It was generally believed that the team winning the more number of sessions is a stronger candidate for going on to win the test match. But the first test between Sri Lanka and India turned out to be a different ball game altogether. India dominated the first 3 days of play and had their opponent against the back of the wall until Chandimal came in and played a blazing knock to turn the complexion of the game completely. Like I said, fast pitches and attacking field set also allows the batsman to score freely and at that stage even a little complacency from the fielding side means an invitation to the batting team to come back into the contest; and that’s exactly what happened there.

In addition to this, there are several reasons to watch these new-look test matches. Fast scored runs and fall of wickets in greater numbers are also shortening the match apart from its entertaining disposition. Games that end with a one and a half days to spare are likely to draw more crowd than those ending all square after 5 days. Effectively as the conditions have made a haste of the overall game a little bit, even a washout of a full day’s play doesn’t always take the game to a draw.

sachin-tendulkar-thanking-pitch

The exquisite roles that a pitch plays are often responsible for making a team look like what it actually is. Sometimes it makes a weaker opponent look stronger than ever and sometimes the champions as the underdogs. Sometimes it makes a champion team “the champions” and sometimes turns an ever unknown fellow into a national hero. But the sad thing is that we keep talking about the “happy hunting grounds” of many players, rather than what should be “happy hunting pitches”. We remember the names of good players but not the pitch that helped them to make names for themselves. Nobody remembers the name of the pitch curators, even though without their expertise the game would have meant nothing. It takes years of practice to master the skill of preparing a good pitch, but unfortunately the pitches along with their creators never get a place in the history books, only the players and the teams do. Hence this post of mine is a very small effort to tribute those who really deserved something big. And yes, I still remember that rare thanksgiving gesture to the Wankhede pitch from the God of cricket when he signed off for the final time. The picture itself tells you the whole story a way better than my words.

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