Three exciting tests were played recently and here’s a comparison of their numbers:
Test Runs Wickets Avg R/O Overs Pacers Spinners
A 841 40 21.0 3.0 285 53% 48%
B 969 35 27.7 3.2 299 37% 63%
C 663 32 20.7 3.9 168 100% 0%
By sheer power of digits, it seems Test A was played for over 3 days and was a wicket which assisted spinners and pacers alike. The runs per over translates to 270 runs scored on a day of test cricket, not low by any standards. Test B had more runs, more overs and a wicket which had fair share of help for pacers and spinners. Test C couldn’t even last for 180 overs (normally bowled over two days of test cricket), had less runs, lower averages and was a wicket which had no place for spinners.
Yet, as strange as ways of ICC go, they went ahead and officially warned the Sri Lankan cricket board over the wicket prepared (Test A) for the Galle test match featuring Australia. Close on the heels followed the Kotla game (Test B) where India beat West Indies and the usual murmurs again started – “bad pitch for batting, for stroke making, for test cricket”. However not one soul complained about the Cape town wicket (Test C).
For a start, fans like us, would like to know what defines a good test wicket as per ICC. We know television revenue needs a game to be alive for all five days; the sport needs a pitch balanced enough to assist both batsmen and bowlers (spinners and pacers alike); hard or soft enough to ensure a batsman doesn’t have a threat of a major injury and true enough to ensure a contest lasting the distance. Anything, which doesn’t fulfill the above criterion could be classified a bad wicket.
Unfortunately going by ICC’s warnings, and judgment of experts and commentators, everyone seems to be following a trend
1.Rank slow turners with variable bounce that assist spinners are generally categorized bad. Common sense tells me the chances of a batsman getting injured in a low slow turner are less.
2. Fast, pacy bouncy wickets with variable bounce are generally categorized good; even if they have more than a fair chance of injuring the batsman.
3. Dead flat wickets with even bounce, tons of runs scored and bowlers looking like canon fodder are good.
4. Wickets outside the subcontinent are generally good!
When India toured New Zealand in the chill of 2002, two horror tests were finished in just over two days each, average run per wicket was a measly 16.2, average run rate was 2.9 and spinners took 4% of the wickets during the entire series. No one complained. Stephen Fleming’s open challenge to a mighty batting Indian lineup with extra watered pitches had given the desired result which many cricketing nations wanted to enjoy – Indian batsmen were made to hop, skip and jump. No one complained.
Yet two years later when Australia lost a test with better numbers, they were the first to crib and file a complaint over the wicket. The Wankhede wicket in 2004 averaged 15.1 runs per wicket, an overall run rate of 3.0 and a pitch where pacers picked a decent 28% of the wickets.
Four years later Kanpur got an official warning, courtesy yet another sore loser – a team which otherwise is widely regarded as ‘chokers’. Before the game, coach Mickey Arthur admitted “Even we would have left a lot of grass on South African wickets in this situation. We would have played to our strength.”. Two days into the game, his sporting stance changed into a whining one, saying that the wicket represented close to a fifth day track. After a horrendous second innings collapse, the whining turned into an official complaint. The numbers of that game show average of 24 runs scored per batsman, run rate of 3.1 and 44% wickets taken by pacers.
What I fail to figure out is why wickets are up for complaint, scrutiny and introspection when spinners take over 55% of the wickets and why aren’t any noises made about decks where pacers reap over 90% of the total sticks?
South Africa themselves needed to be reminded of a certain Durban test of 1996. 678 runs were scored as pacers took 95% of the 40 wickets to fall. India had totaled a measly 100 and 66 runs in their two outings. Yet, an Indian lineup can’t whine about bouncy wickets, neither can Sri Lanka, nor Bangladesh. Similarly a West Indies or a New Zealand can’t speak against a rank turner. It seems the rights to whine about pitches lie only with SA, Australia and England. Is it this bias which spills to other aspects of the game? Is this why Indians feel that they are always hard done by umpiring against these teams?
The funny thing is that all the tests mentioned where the wicket came under scrutiny ended up as exciting tests for majority of the game – whether Mumbai 2004, Kanpur 2008, Galle and Delhi 2011. The same can’t be said about Durban 1996, New Zealand 2002 or Melbourne 2006. In the last mentioned game, barring Warnie’s seven wickets, all other 23 wickets fell to pacers as England collapsed to 159 and 161, as yet another test match finished within three days.
There was another game at Sharjah 2002 where Pakistan slumped to scores of 59 and 53 as the entire test match lasted barely 147 overs. However I would give the benefit of doubt as Sharjah isn’t a regular test destination, and off the 30 wickets to fall, spinners accounted for 40% of the sticks. However the feeling is that, since Australia won this game handsomely, no noise was made.
Capetown though was exciting and so too was Lords 2000 – an event where England beat West Indies inside two and half days – the average score per wicket being a measly 17.0 as scores in the last three innings were 134, 54 and 191/8.
What surprises me is that why are batting paradise wickets never up for complaints? Every year stands witness to a significant number of tests where not even 25 wickets fall across five days and over 1500 runs are scored. They are bad for the game, discouraging for the bowlers and yawn for the spectators. Yet, no one complains while batting averages get improved.
Unless someone can tell me that a batsman scoring hundred is more acceptable and good for television revenue; or an Australian or South African pace bowler bagging wickets is more marketable material than any subcontinent spinner ripping through non subcontinent teams!
Till that time, this bias against the sub-continental spinning wickets must stop.