Monday, 14 July 2014

Good Pitch? There's Nothing Good About This

By Shane Thomas

When I first began to watch cricket (I was about 12), I would often hear players and commentators talk about a pitch (or wicket) being "good". I soon learnt that a good pitch was one that was amenable to plenty of runs being scored, favouring the batsman, and making it onerous for bowlers to take wickets.
I've always found this terminology puzzling. How could a pitch be "good" if it's unbalanced towards the batsman? But given that I was a relative naif to the sport, I didn't question it too much. However, I've watched a fair amount of cricket since then, and while I'm hardly one of the cricketing cognoscente, I know enough to feel comfortable in stating that the idiom, "good pitch", is an irritating misnomer.

This topic has resurfaced because of the 1st Test match that has just finished in a draw between England and India. The pitch at Trent Bridge was one that felt like an act of beneficence towards batsman. A lifeless surface, making bowling - for seamers and spinners alike - an act of Sisyphean labour.

A few years ago, former England player, Steve Harmison brilliantly dubbed these pitches as "chief executive wickets"; the type of pitches that will ensure a Test match lasts a full five days, ensuring the stadium recoups maximum revenue[1], with the quality of the actual contest a secondary concern.

Not only is this another aspect of the sports-industrial complex, where sport is now looked at as little more than a licence to print money, but it hurts the very industry that the ECB are making money from. There's nothing "good" about a pitch that makes scores of 400+ routine, that privileges batting, and denies an equitable contest for the players and audience.

Test match cricket - in particular - is a sport that depends heavily on a fair balance between all its elements. But it's instructive how the sport unevenly favours batsman when a pitch such as the one we had at Trent Bridge is regarded as good, whereas one that is unfairly skewed towards bowlers will not only be castigated, but can result in punitive measures.

The sliding scale that exists of a pitch being better the more it allows for runscoring is absolutely ludicrous. While a wicket that is as fragile as the top of creme brulee should be rightly upbraided, the same should happen for pitches as lively as I am at 7:30 on a Monday morning.

And the language surrounding the issue is significant. It doesn't help when the common lexicon describes this state of affairs as good. There's nothing good about the surface England and India had to play on last week. There's nothing good about a match that drifts towards an inevitable draw, without even the threat of a victor after five days.

Simply put, it's just not cricket.

[1] - And when you look at ticket prices for England matches, that's some revenue.

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