Pitches are a widespread problem. The Australian surfaces too have slowed down, writes Peter Roebuck
The Australian surfaces too have slowed down
Does Test cricket want to survive? Or is it doomed to become a mere television spectacle played in eerily silent stadiums and before meagre crowds? Any game hoping to prosper in modern times must provide entertainment.
It is not a question of wearing red noses and big ears. Rather it is a matter of ensuring that supreme skills are pitted against each other in compelling conflict. Otherwise supporters will look elsewhere. No one any longer is willing to waste time. Alas an eagerly awaited confrontation in the Caribbean has been reduced to a standstill by the lifelessness of the pitches. Throughout they have been as dreary as a plate of meat and two vegetarian dishes served by an English cook. Every match has been drawn. Admittedly the bowling has been tame and the weather occasionally inclement.
Nevertheless, Test cricket cannot afford the luxury of stalemates. A cricket match peters after five days of predictable progress. Meanwhile in Germany a brilliant forward scores a goal that brings the crowd to its feet.
Does West Indian cricket also have a deathwish? Various measures have been proposed in an attempt to revive the game in the Caribbean. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent ferrying around a phalanx of past players, a manoeuvre supposed to inspire youth. It's a bit like expecting modern youth to respond to Mick Jagger. Millions of dollars will be spent on 20-over cricket. Everyone can see the steam but where is the soup? Better to attend to the basics, namely development and facilities. Perhaps the grounds built for the World Cup will save the day. The blocks used in this series need to be dug up.
It was the same in the most recent meeting between Pakistan and India. Two nations were agog. Every sensible person was delighted that these might cricketing forces had been able to meet upon a field of play. And what happened? Match after match was played on the sort of surface that draws the sting from the most fierce combatant. Sharp-fanged vipers came to resemble toothless adders. Shoaib Akhtar was reduced to throwing the ball and sending down beamers.
Of course, the batsmen were happy as they nursed imposing figures. They have become a protected species. Many have forgotten how to counter the moving ball and look inept whenever it wobbles about. Most of the great innings have been played in demanding conditions. Umpires also favour batsmen, leaning towards them, especially on docile surfaces. No one ever asks the bowlers for an opinion. But cricket is a battle between bat and ball, or it is nothing.
A fine line exists between a pitch that renders bowlers obsolete and one that turns batting into a lottery. Two pitches provoked debate during the last home series with the Australians.
Nagpur's independent groundsman produced a lively surface and was condemned as the visitors prevailed. Polly Umrigar prepared a deplorably dusty pitch in Mumbai. India scraped home in a short contest and hardly a growl was heard. Ignoring the temporary, India needs to seek bounce and bounce. It cannot be that difficult. Forty years ago a man set foot on the moon.
Pitches are a widespread problem. Australian surfaces have also slowed down. Only England is producing faster wickets than usual. Cynics put it down to a strong pace attack. Perhaps it is the other way around. Hard pitches stimulate attacking batting and aggressive bowling. Cricket must encourage these activities, or it is dead in the water.