Days before a match we will hear the relentless cries for a home advantage wicket. Whether it is too fast, too slow, too green, too dry, the wicket is one of the ?not to be missed? talking point of a series. In the recently concluded test match with India at the BNS the final verdict was that the pitch performed admirably and presented a surface that was conducive for an interesting duel between bat and ball.
Preparing these wickets takes patience and a good deal of time. Two weeks for a one-dayer is the norm but with the hectic cricket schedule the time frame is shrinking. As these wickets are composed of organic stuff, a 65% clay content with its reactive characteristics coupled with the usual cracking within five days, it makes pitch preparation clouded in an aura of unpredictability.
So what determines the bounce, the pace, the seam, and the spin characteristics of the pitch? In a nutshell it is about the tightness and compactness of the soil that can absorb the impact of the ball as it bounces. And then the task at hand is to identify what are the optimum grass cover; percentage grass cover and desirable moisture content. After establishing that the aim is also to eliminate excess organic matter under the surface, which can deaden the bounce, thus creating a pitch that is low and uncharacteristic.
Time is an important consideration. Just as the cricket ball ages, the wicket will also unfold the charm of gradual change. A transformation that is relished by spinners and feared by batsmen but both has dealt with this phenomenon to create the subtleties and intricacies in a game of cricket. Nonetheless, it is desirable to nurture a fully grassed pitch with root growth that holds the soil in a binding state and sustains a more stable ground. From batsmen to umpires it 's this trait that is favoured as any change is more even and becomes ?readable? in the last few days of a game.
Consistency of bounce in pitches is a sign that they are laid properly. In this respect it is fair to say that Australia is considered to be a leader. In comparison with other countries their pitches are fast and in terms of bounce height they are unmatched. It is these very pitches with reasonable pace that punish mediocre bowlers that bowl at medium or slow pace. They also punish spinners that can't turn the ball on pitches without much grip. So the only ones that prosper are the very best. Above all, these pitches are conducive for entertaining cricket, i.e. lots of runs being scored and a full range of shots played by batsmen.
Preparing the pitch at BNS
To conjure up a pitch that actively encourages pace, batting and spin bowling is a formidable groundkeeping task and therefore the success of the BNS ground staff in the recent match was commendable. In this case it can be said that the right ratio and type of clay hardness; a certain type of water content and the right amount of grass cover gave us that ?X factor? wicket. Again, the key seemed to be high moisture content and a good soil density that maintained composition throughout the match.
After all that effort in preparation how do you test what the pitch is going to be like for a match? Usually it is the old key test where the head Malee usually pokes, presses and pummels a key into the fresh skin of the pitch. It?s an old test to figure out the hardiness of the soil but one that has stood the test of time. Another of the many tests that are available and one used widely in England is the ?bounce test?. They are all relatively simple and the skill to administer them in Bangladesh will not be a major problem.
Australia and their Test wickets have attracted a lot of pundits. Remarkably, even though the myth is that all their tracks are fast, it is the variations and differences that are a well-guarded secret. There is the good bounce in Perth; Adelaide and Hobart are excellent batting wickets; Melbourne?s has a quick track with its ability to take a bit of spin later and Sydney is renowned for a spinning track. In short, their players have ample opportunities to practice under varying conditions.
Unfortunately, countries such as Bangladesh, Kenya and to a lesser extent Sri Lanka are hooked on home pitches. So when they go on overseas tours they face adjustment problems and are generally unable to play the ball that bounces high. For Bangladesh the main culprit has been slow, lifeless pitches that has succeeded in forming bad habits with minimum technique. If emphasis on good technique is not paid at an early age headaches persist throughout their career. However, as soon as they face test pitches, which give the bowlers some assistance, they are forced to make mistakes and thereby train and learn.
Another obstacle that has been a sore point in Bangladesh and elsewhere is that most of the grounds are now multi-event venues, where not only cricket, but also football, concerts and all manners of pitch disruptions take place. In Dhaka Stadium each wickets costs lakhs of taka and the repair of some of these wickets after the football season is an additional burden. Even if we have numerous grounds there are only a few that have been allocated exclusively for cricket.
On a positive note, the Under-19 World Cup has been a bright spot in BD cricket history as it has put into sharp focus the value of the few grounds that are exclusively designed for cricket. Not only is it a timely opportunity to experiment but with adequate funds, equipment and permanent ground staff, we could be possibly have 6 real sporting wickets. With these meticulously engineered to mimic outside conditions our test players will be left with few complaints.
And even then if we manage to create these exciting wickets the groundsmen?s job will still be left unappreciated as it remains a thankless job.
?I can't criticize the pitch, but I just spoke to a mate and he said it's an absolute disgrace,?Jason Gillespie
References and further reading:
- Pitch Preparation in detail
- Bounce test
The author is a moderator of banglacricket forum and goes by the nick "oracle" - editors