A level playing field
21 November 2009 @ 7:31 am
The first test match against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad ended in a draw. Not very surprising, considering that 14 out of the 30 tests between India and Sri Lanka have been drawn, quite tamely most of the time. In fact, my memory of India-Sri Lanka games between 96 and 2000 oscillates between
- Jayasuriya walloping India in the one-day games and
- Every batsman walloping every bowler in the test matches.
Given that history, why is there such a hue and cry this time around about a boring draw? The answer lies in the statistics : 6 centuries, a double century and just 14 wickets, in other words — a terrible pitch. There has been no shortage of brickbats for the BCCI and the groundsmen for preparing such a blatantly batsman-friendly track. You could hardly fault Chris Gayle for not caring about test matches.
The remedy everyone wants is a better balance between bat and ball. But you start wondering why the balance has to be only between batsmen and fast bowlers. Every mention of a sporting wicket is accompanied by the words fast, bouncy and seaming wickets. What about spinner friendly tracks ?
Between the 1987 series against Pakistan and the series against South Africa in 2000, India did not lose a single series at home. As far as I can remember, in almost every game the Indian spinners would terrorise the batsmen right from the tea break on day 1. Also, of the 37 tests played in this period in India, a little over a quarter of them, 10, were drawn compared to close to 37% of drawn tests world over in the same period (Agreed, this percentage would go down heavily if you don’t count matches involving New Zealand or Sri Lanka!). So why are spinner-friendly tracks treated as badly as the batsman-friendly ones, or even worse perhaps?
There seems to be a deep-rooted prejudice against spin bowling. A spinning wicket is called a “dust bowl” but you’d never hear a seamer’s paradise being addressed as a grazing field. The playing conditions must be ridiculous if Kumble can get his leg spinner to turn whereas there’s never a murmur about conditions that allow “bowlers” like Collingwood and Ganguly to thrive. India gets bowled out for 100 in Durban because Indians can’t play fast bowling but South Africa gets bowled out for 121 at Kanpur because the pitch was terrible. Clive Lloyd submitted his report on “bad pitch conditions” at Ahmedabad during the 2005 test between India and Sri Lanka, but no one reported the Bridgetown strip where India was bowled out for 81.
It’s high time the concept of a level playing field is redefined. The kind of tracks we had in Chennai through the 90s are perfect examples of a good balance between the bat, which would reign for the first couple of days and the (spinning) ball, which would torment the batsmen on days 4 and 5. Yes, the fast bowlers would be wasted on such tracks, but no one ever shed tears for spinners at the WACA, Perth or Kingsmead, Durban.
Demonising the flat tracks is acceptable, but “dust bowls” too? That’s just not cricket!