Thursday, March 23, 2006

'Even contest' grounds

Australia score 434 in fifty overs at Johannesburg and South Africa hunt them down with a wicket and a delivery to spare. Thrilling indeed - because they made a match of it as the script progressed, because none dared guess the result till it came.
Sri Lanka struggle to 130 all out against Pakistan at the Premadasa in the 2nd ODI and then hit back to have their opponents at 82/6. They made a match of it too.
We all loved the matches - the 872 one, and the 264 one too. Yet so few will put their hands up if asked to say a few words in praise of the groundsmen of those pitches. "It was not a fair pitch", the common refrain. These people, the groundsmen, have the only job on the ground that is more thankless than the wicketkeeper's.
What is a fair pitch? Limiting the scope of discussion to a one-day match, curators prepare one-day pitches for both teams to play on them for just one day. The surface may be a spinners delight, a paceman's dream or a batsman's paradise, as their administrators legitimately or otherwise want it to be. They just follow the orders. The weather and local factors also play a big part in their craft just as the ambient moisture does to Hoggard's. Their main duty to the one-day sport then is merely ensuring that the surface, of whatever nature, plays more or less the same for that one day. In other words, play fair.
Yet in the event of a one-sided result the pitches are sometimes blamed by players and coaches even after those have played evenly for the designated duration. And seldom will anyone from the home association care to defend their groundsmen.
ICC has proposed a new pitch monitoring process for international venues. One hopes the process works with the positive philosophy of helping preparation of fair pitches as we discussed above, rather than one that narrows its scope down to witch-hunting. A process to curb undue pre-match requests by home captains / administrators to excessively alter the nature of a pitch on the eve of a match is worth exploring though.
Inclusion of the curator in the post match conference may not be a bad idea. Poor batting or bowling will then be tougher to defend. Conversely the curator shall feel like being part of the process that is responsible for ensuring that either team gets the same conditions.
Anything to see an evenly contested cricket match....
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

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