A Terrible Batting Pitch

Sambit Bal, Cricinfo’s editor, did not mince words when he condemned the Napier Test match’s pitch:

As I had said in the earlier discussion, this was a disappointing pitch. In fact, I would say it’s a terrible pitch. It has had nothing for the bowlers. Apart from Zaheer Khan’s first two wickets in the first hour, almost all the wickets in the Test have fallen because of mistakes made by batsmen. It had nothing for the quick bowlers on the first day, and nothing for the spinners on the last. That’s simply not good enough. It was poor batting by the Indians in the first innings that made this Test kind of interesting. Otherwise you could have played for ten days on this pitch and not a get result.

He later goes on to diagnose the trend:

Cricket administrators have an unhealthy obsession these days about making matches last five days. Television pays for cricket and TV bosses want every commercial break they can get. But if it starts in the way of producing interesting cricket, it would be self-defeating. Such cricket will only turn people away from Tests. There have been too many pitches like this in the last couple of months. It’s killing Test cricket. 

I agree pitches need to be bowler-friendly, but I disagree with why we’ve seen such bad pitches of late. At least with the one-day format (and Twenty20), batting displays appear to make for better television. Whenever two teams score highly, commentators will say, as a camera pans the stadium, that the audience has enjoyed a real treat. I don’t know why they do that, because watching boundary after boundary only cheapens the act for me. 

What administrators and television producers don’t understand, however, is that limited cricket is limited. The shortness saves it from the inevitable boredom that five days of endless batting would produce. In the Test format, you need an equal contest, or the length just kills the entire game. In a one-day, you can get away with it (though you really shouldn’t), since even if one side reaches a high score, the team batting second must score as quickly under even more pressure. In the Test format, as India just showed, that’s just not the case. 

But I don’t think groundsmen produce such pitches only because they need five days of cricket, as Bal writes. I think they do so under the mistaken conclusion that batting pitches are what audiences what. They need to understand, however, that different audiences need different things, and while a batting-friendly pitch may make for a great ODI, it makes for a terrible time with Tests.

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