Rajan's Wrong 'Un: The game is poorer for playing it safe and avoiding sticky wickets

If we had fewer chief executives' wickets, fans might be drawn back to the longer form of the game

A few weeks ago I came across a wonderful servant of the game at a book festival in the Hampshire village of West Meon. When he's not advancing his vast knowledge of music, food, and local history, David Allen is the archivist at Hampshire CCC. He is one of the most erudite and charming men I have ever met. We had a long discussion about spin bowling in the parish church, during which I was taken aback by the strength of his feeling, and that of many others in attendance, on the advent of covered pitches.

These, many of those present felt, had rid the game of spice and tipped the centuries-old balance between bat and ball decisively in the direction of the former. That it was motivated by the commercial imperative of getting bums on seats late on days three, four and five was no consolation.

I was reminded of Mr Allen on reading this week that his beloved Hampshire had been docked eight points for a "poor pitch" in their County Championship match against Nottinghamshire at The Rose Bowl. A panel from the ECB, comprising Tony Pigott, Chris Wood and Mike Denness, ruled the pitch offered excessive turn. Spinners took 25 of the 36 wickets, with the newly slender Samit Patel claiming 7 for 68, and the immensely talented Danny Briggs twirling his left arm for 6 for 65.

"The club accepts the judgement of the pitch panel committee in good faith", Hampshire said meekly. What they couldn't say is that their chances of avoiding relegation had been set back because they produced a pitch that spun significantly less on day three than many Test pitches on the subcontinent do on the first morning.

Naturally, I have some sympathy for administrators who have seen their revenues dwindle and are desperate for each fixture to last. But bland pitches produce bland cricket and one of the consequences of punitive action against groundsmen who dare to encourage spin is bound to be fewer results. I therefore have even more sympathy with Ray Illingworth, an off-spinner who spent most of his career playing on uncovered pitches. He wrote in his biography that "they produce better batters and bowlers".

Richie Benaud, whose career was coming to a close as uncovered pitches were phased out in England in the 1960s, blames the move for the near extinction of wrist-spin bowling. He was playing in the Old Trafford Test of 1956, in which Jim Laker took 19 for 90. That wicket was marled, devoid of grass – and rain-affected.

Allen, who started watching county games during this period, recalls matches in which spinners could be a decisive influence from the first day, and batsmen employed skills now largely defunct in England to counter sharp turn and unpredictable bounce. Perhaps if we had fewer of what Steve Harmison acutely described a few years ago as chief executives' wickets, such skills could be revived – and fans drawn back to the longer version of the game. Instead, as soon as a 20-year-old left-armer takes a six-for on the South Coast, the inspectors are called in.

The other regret with covered pitches is that they have led to a standardisation of conditions around the world. The cricket writer Lawrence Booth, an old friend of this column, reminds me that during the 1936-37 Ashes series Australia responded to a sticky dog – a wet pitch exposed to the sun – in Melbourne by reversing the batting order. Don Bradman came in at No 7, scored 270, and Australia won by 365 runs.

Cricket in England and beyond could do with more sticky dogs and fewer administrative poodles.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas