Posted by: nestaquin | April 15, 2008

Curators: Clumsy or Canny?

It would seem by the recent results in Chepauk, Motera and Kanpur that Indian curators are struggling with the horticultural skills required to produce acceptable Test match strips. They rarely get the balance required to produce a result on the fifth day of a match.

In Chepauk, the pitch was so hard, flat and dry that a roller was an extravagance. In Motera the wicket was wet on the first morning virtually ruining the contest before the luncheon adjournment. At Kanpur, the pitch was difficult on day one due to the wildly inconsistent bounce and the match finished predictably like its predecessor, on Day 3.

It has left me wondering if it is due to climate, season or just plain old incompetence. Truly, not one pitch on the South African tour of India was of Test match quality.

In New Zealand recently, two teams with less than stellar squads were able to battle it out till the fifth day in all three Tests. There was something in the wicket for both bat and ball and although the quality of cricket was not of the highest quality they were absorbing contests for the full duration.

Likewise in the recent West Indies – Sri Lankan series both matches saw results late in the match. One late on Day four, the other late on Day five. The public undoubtedly received its money’s worth.

In Australia, it is expected that a Test match pitch will have something for the seamers on the first day, settle down and be good for batting on days two and three, with the pitch deteriorating and the spinners coming to the fore on days four and five.

Generally, despite the climatic and geographical vagaries of the continent, this is the case. A city’s test match is the highlight of the cricketing summer and a year’s planning and effort go into the pitch and outfield’s presentation. It is a matter of pride.

If an Australian curator produced pitches like those we have seen of late on the sub-continent he would be hammered from pillar to post for his ineptitude. And likely to be looking for other employment.

Test matches on the sub-continent too often are boring draws or are completed far too early. I don’t know the exact causes, although I have my suspicions.

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Responses

  1. I find the variation in pitches incredible in 2008. It just can’t be that difficult to produce a decent strip.

    I also find the lack of information about the wicket laughable in this day and age. Pundits will pontificate about a pitch being good or slow or quick and no evidence will sway them. At the very leasty we need a version of golf’s stimpmeter that measures the pace of a green and arguably a lot more than that. A set of measures taken at the beginning of each day and in the intervals shouldn’t be impossible should it?

  2. Come on nesta, you can say it. That home sides order pitches is wrong. Good on the Motera curator for refusing to follow to Kumble’s instructions to cut the grass. Kumble won the toss and batted.

    One thing that annoys me a lot is that Australians have largely ceded the moral high ground on pitch doctoring. There’s talk now from many corners about how we should serve up a fast WACA wicket for the first Test against the Indians. Nonsense. Curators can do what they like. We’d all (well, most of us) like to see Perth back to its bouncy best. But don’t go scheduling tours to increase home advantage.

    Toots, I think you’re the first person I’ve come across who thinks that there’s too much variation in modern pitches. Most pitches these days are bland and characterless.

    Crumbling dustbowls like the one in Kanpur against South Africa or Mumbai in 2004 aren’t needed, but pitches that deteriorate on days four and five would be both acceptable and a nice change.

    It should be possible to use Hawkeye data to see the speed of the ball immediately before and after pitching to see how fast or slow the pitch is. That shouldn’t be too hard to do and I think I’ll see if I can contact someone who might be able to organise it.

  3. David – There are too many bad pitches around! From the awful pitch that has just made a lottery of a Test in India to the puddings the World Cup was played on. Pitches don’t have character, batsmen and bowlers do. A bad pitch rewards rubbish: a good pitch sorts the class from the frauds.

    If every pitch was quick and had reliable bounce (low or high) and deteriorated, I’d be happy. There’s enough variation in grounds, atmospherics, wear on the ball etc. Every groundsman / curator should have that one instruction: pace and reliable bounce.

    I have seen some Hawkeye graphics showing the pace of the ball before and after landing and I find that fascinating. Surely it shouldn’t be impossible to discover what kind of pace makes for good cricket, then prepare accordingly?

    I get really angry about pitches, because even I have broken a batsman’s nose and knocked another’s teeth out because of a lousy pitch (in club, league cricket this). If the ECB wanted to do one thing to improve grassroots cricket in England, they could employ groundskeepers to tend five pitches and support volunteers. Then English bowlers might spin it hard, cut it and reverse swing it.

  4. Don’t forget that Kumble chose to bat on the wet pitch and I don’t need to remind you what Punter did at Edgbaston. You can have all the technology you like but the state of the pitch is only one of many factors and as nobody has really worked out why a ball swings, I don’t know how you are supposed to work out how it will bounce…..it depends who is slinging it down and how.
    Tooting – I would like to see more County Cricket played at club grounds. The county groundsman would be responsible for ensuring the wickets are up to scratch across their county.

  5. Bush – Good idea.

    I’ve bowled on wickets used for county matches on next Saturday – my feet really hurt as the wicket was like concrete!

  6. One of the many beautiful and intriguing aspects of Test match cricket is the state of the pitch and how players need to adapt to different conditions.

    However, it would appear that sub-continental curators may need some help in developing a strip that makes a competitive Test match over the duration.

    When pitches are served up half-cooked like in this recent series or shockers that allow part-timers like Pup Clarke to take 6 for 9 as was the case on Australia’s last tour some action is needed.

    I think education is the answer. I wonder how much technology and the latest horticultural science that Indian curators have access to.

    In the greenhouses at Bellerive during this coming winter, studies are beginning on a genetically modified couch grass that will need less water, has a more extensive root structure and produces a wider blade.

    It is hoped it will produce a longer lasting surface for the future. Therefore more cricket can be played on fewer pitches without the wear and tear that produces uneven bounce.

    It is wide variations in bounce that ruin Test cricket as a spectacle. It is difficult enough batting against the best bowlers in the world without balls landing in the same spot and misbehaving.

    Glad to see David has a new challenge and I expect that after Toots request we will have a tool for measuring speed and carry in no time.

    Also, a warm welcome B’Numpty, your views are always welcome here at 99.94.


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