Pitch perfect: how to get Test matches back in the swing of things
Saturday 31 July 2010
Anyone with a ticket for tomorrow's play here may have been prepared to argue otherwise while 12 wickets were falling in the space of 33 overs, but thank heavens for a bit of unpredictable bounce and conditions that encouraged swing bowling.
Test cricket was alive, kicking and a joy to watch in Nottingham yesterday.
The same, it is safe to assume, could not be said about the game grinding to a halt in Colombo, where Sri Lanka and India finally – and mercifully – shook hands on a stalemate after five days during which the only contest was not between bat and ball but whether stumps would be drawn before a frustrated bowler could take a pickaxe to the pitch.
Five years ago, Shahid Afridi – later to become Pakistan captain – tried to scuff up a pan-flat strip in Faisalabad by pirouetting on a good length while wearing his spikes and at a time when everyone else in the ground was more concerned about an exploding gas canister. Afridi received his come-uppance from the match referee, but at least a few folk at the Sinhalese Sports Club this week must have thought a bit of pitch-tampering would not be such a bad idea.
The International Cricket Council is looking at all sorts of ideas to breathe fresh life into the oldest form of the game in those parts of the world where attendances are in steady decline. But even floodlights and pink balls might struggle to add colour to a "contest" like the one in Colombo, which produced nearly 1,500 runs and only 17 wickets.
As Angus Fraser, formerly of England and, more recently, this newspaper, was occasionally heard to mutter when bowling his heart out for Middlesex: "Why is it that they send for the pitch inspector when 15 wickets fall in a championship day but do nothing if none go down?" Only he didn't say "nothing".
There was never any danger of batsmen gorging themselves silly in a featherbed heaven at Trent Bridge yesterday. Even though Eoin Morgan and Paul Collingwood had added more than 200 runs for England's fifth wicket, Pakistan's bowlers soon had a spring in their step with a nearly new ball swinging nicely from their hands. And didn't Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer use the conditions to their advantage to wrap up the home side's first innings in quick time?
Swing, of course, is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. And it cannot be ordered because humidity, cloud cover, breeze, condition of the ball and even the height of the stands around the ground seem to play a part in producing curve and swerve. But even if bowlers had struggled in vain to find assistance through the air, yesterday's cricket would still have been interesting because there was just enough in the pitch to prevent batsmen from taking liberties.
No delivery misbehaved badly but cracks, which may widen and loosen if the game progresses beyond today, created a hint of uncertainty – and some early turn for the spinners. Probably the biggest encouragement for England's bowlers, though, was provided, pre-Test, by Pakistan captain Salman Butt, who wondered out loud whether Asif and Aamer were the best opening pair around. That must have come as a red rag to a bull to Jimmy Anderson, in particular, and he responded by using the shiny red ball like a king of swing on his way to another five-wicket haul.
Anderson did receive one unexpected present on his 28th birthday with Azhar Ali failing to use the decision review system when it would surely have saved him. But, like all bowlers, Anderson needs the rub of the green to go his way from time to time.
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