Thursday, June 26, 2008

Home Sweet Home?

Even a moderate cricket follower can predict the type of pitch you would expect for a Test match at Perth. Similarly, you wouldn't need too many guesses to figure out how the pitch at Headingly would behave. Sydney's always been a turner, Galle's conducive to swing bowling and the Wanderers usually has something for both batsmen and bowlers.

But predicting a pitch for a Test match in Pakistan is not too different from guessing who would be managing Real Madrid next season. I've witnessed games with green tops, slow turners and completely flat decks, all at the same ground. Keeping in mind that Pakistan does not have a fixed international cricket season at home, the variable weather conditions for each series only adds to the level of uncertainty for the preparation of the home side.

All this means that each pitch is prepared based on the type of opponents, the situation of the series, and (probably of least significance to the Board) Pakistan's own strengths and weaknesses. I say this after helplessly watching countless matches where Pakistan's world class bowling attacks of yesteryear were forced to churn out sadistic amounts of overs on dead, spinner friendly tracks. The strategy has always appeared to be to exploit the opposition's weaknesses rather than to facilitate our own strengths. Not only is this nauseatingly defensive, but it also shows lack of character and thinking by so many of our boards and management (ad-hoc or not).

So you can forgive the Pakistan team to some degree for their unpredictability, at least when they play at home. I think its about time there are fixed curators for each ground itself, not just foreign specialists brought in on a series by series basis. And each ground should be allowed to have their own flavor of pitch. Its not surprising that Australia are so good at adapting to different conditions since they have plenty of practice playing at a variety of pitches at home.

And it would do good to spectators, organizers and players to have a fixed international season rather than having to fill in domestic tours at times when the team isn't touring abroad. The October to December and February to April slots would appear ideal considering the weather and other international seasons (England play during the summer, while Australia have the winter).

Provided the team is assured of consistent pitches and weather conditions, they are bound to perform more consistently.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bowling, anyone?

Anyone who had doubts on whether cricket is a batsman's game must really have a clear picture now. After MCC's endorsement of Pietersen's "left-handed pull/sweep" (I still don't think its a reverse shot), bowlers all over the world must be looking for alternative careers. "It will add to the excitement", they say. As long as there's potential for more scoring options, the ICC doesn't mind roping it into the laws. Anything that ensures high scoring is branded "exciting". Bowlers now have nothing but a peripheral role in the team as bowling skills alone cannot justify a player's inclusion in the side anymore. If things keep on going the way they are, bowling itself would be a rare and intimidating skill that people (especially youngsters) would be too scared to learn.

I remember the times when low scoring matches were as much, if not more, exciting than high scoring ones. Now any low scoring match ends up with an inquiry on the pitch and the curator. Bowling friendly or low scoring pitches are deemed "un-fit" for cricket and match referees are brought in at once to provide a report on the pitch and conditions. On the other hand, 400 plus score pitches are encouraged and celebrated.

The "free-hit" is another ludicrous example of how bowlers are given no breathing space at all. Contrary to prevalent opinion, there has always been a free-hit available to the batsman. A batsman cannot get out on a no-ball, so he is allowed to hit it anywhere without concern. By giving the batsman another free-hit, the bowler is being penalized twice for a crime that does not deserve the bill. Some people say that the batsman on most occasions cannot hear the umpire's call in time to make use of a no-ball. My response to that is, does it matter? Why should a batsman have the comfort of knowing that he can't be dismissed before going for a shot? It can only lead to ungraceful and bizarre strokeplay.

To bring some balance between bat and ball, the ICC (or MCC) should allow bowlers to bowl with their left hand without prior warning. I think that would definitely bring some excitement to the game. And the free-hit should be done with as soon as possible. The ropes should be put back nearer to the fences to allow for more 2s and 3s, and even the odd run 4. Intelligent running between the wickets can also add a lot of excitement to the game. Its about time batsmen, who are already pampered with helmets and other protective equipment, are shown that it takes two to play this game.