Techniques put to test by sticky wicket

Yorkshire pitch gives batsmen thorough examination and provides great value for the viewers

The pitch for the third Test at Trent Bridge, as is so often the way with surfaces that are less than perfect, produced an extremely exciting cricket match. The main objection then was that it handed the side that won the toss and batted first, too important an advantage. Graeme Smith guessed wrong and England won the match.

Both sides came here knowing that they were going to find another "result" pitch. Smith won the toss and batted after packing his side with five seam bowlers. Michael Vaughan who also had five at his disposal, said he would have batted if he had won the toss. That part of it seemed mildly strange.

In no time at all South Africa were 21 for 4 and most of the assembled company were belly-aching like mad about the state of the pitch. There was some early moisture and a certain amount of sideways movement. It was a bit uneven and against bowlers who stuck to a tight length and line as England's now did, survival, let alone scoring runs, was going to be a problem.

We have all known about pitches here for a long time. Only two of the last 20 Test matches here have been drawn. The pitches may have been anything but shirt fronts, but they have produced some fascinating cricket, none more so than when South Africa were last here in 1998 and they lost the final Test by 23 runs and the series 2-1.

Batsmen seem to think that they have a God-given right to near perfect surfaces on which to ply their trade at this level of the game. While the majority of Test pitches go most of the way towards fulfilling this requirement, the odd surface that raises question marks in the minds of the batsmen can only be a good thing. The game of cricket has always been tilted in the batsman's favour and it does no harm to see him occasionally scratching his head.

This ground's reputation is well-known. When visiting sides come to England for a five-match series they know that they are almost certainly going to play one match in this part of Yorkshire. They should not arrive here, therefore, and throw their hands in the air in horror at another bowler-friendly pitch. They should try to adapt their techniques and get to grips with what is needed to be successful in these conditions.

On pluperfect surfaces the side winning the toss may make 600 and the side batting second then save the follow-on with plenty to spare. In the end it all comes down to declarations in the last day and a half - the final declaration is almost invariably left for too long - and these games are often a colossal bore.

The pitches we have had for these last two matches have provided a welcome variety and given the game a different perspective. They have also made fascinating watching. It is no coincidence that two of the most successful participants on this first day were tried, trusted and mature technicians. Gary Kirsten's monumental display of patience with the bat was an object lesson while the medium-fast Martin Bicknell, who knows more about his art than most, gave another remarkable demonstration of putting the ball in the right place.

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