Cricket: Tuned to the wrong pitch

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The Independent Online
ON THE evidence so far, the pitches in the Caribbean are a real worry, but what has been experienced in the first two Test matches may be part of a widespread malaise which is affecting the game world-wide. Quite simply, pitches everywhere do not seem to be what they used to be.

The pitch at Sabina Park, Jamaica, once proudly rivalled that at the WACA ground in Perth as the fastest in the world. Nowadays, both are highly suspect, even if it is Sabina which has just won the all-time booby prize for the abandoned First Test.

In England, Egbaston and Headingley have been experiencing problems, Lord's is not what it was under the expert supervision of the late Jim Fairbrother and even The Oval has become more questionable after the impeccable reign of Harry Brind, now the English Cricket Board's inspector of pitches.

In Australia, the Melbourne Cricket Ground bounces lower and slower, and hardly encourages stroke play; in Sydney, the spinners are again in charge and the only real belter lies in the shadow of Adelaide's cathedral.

There is nothing with pace in it in South Africa and the Indian subcontinent usually favours spin, although increasingly the pitches there are slow nothings.

Many of the pitches on which first-class, let alone Test, cricket is played are old and tired , if they are to be reinvigorated, need to be completely relaid. But, as we saw at Sabina Park, the art of relaying a pitch is more complicated than some groundsmen appear to think.

With all the modern mechanical inventions there is a great temptation to take short cuts, which may be counterproductive. My generation was brought up on true stories of the heavy roller at Lord's being pushed endlessly up and down the square by Denis Compton and Bill Edrich when they first joined the MCC staff. Does the mechanised roller go too fast - does it do the job as well?

Then one comes to the matter of top dressing. Is Surrey loam the universal answer in England? Or is it right for some and wrong for others? The same applies to Bulli Creek soil in Australia.

Another point worth considering is whether those in authority who inspect their own pitches and keep an eye on their ground staff really understand as much as their predecessors.

At the WACA in Perth, the day before the Second Test between Australia and the West Indies in 1975-76, I asked Roy Abbott, the head curator, as they are called in Australia, who had produced fine pitches there for many years, how he thought his pitch would play the following day. He replied: "You come back and ask me tomorrow when the first ball has been bowled."