Pitch it right for results: Ian Chappell
Most right-minded cricket fans want a two-pronged contest - one between bat and ball and the other between two engaged teams - with their favoured outfit winning in a close finish on the last day, writes Aussie cricket legend
It's rare to find a perfect cricket pitch — one that satisfies both batsmen and bowlers - but surfaces like the one produced in Abu Dhabi for the first Test between Pakistan and England do the game no favours.
South African Faf du Plessis during the second Test against Australia at the Adelaide Oval in 2012. Pic/Getty Images
Lifeless pitches like the one in Abu Dhabi, which give the bowlers little chance of success, encourage batsmen to dawdle in the name of posting a huge first innings total. Test cricket — which is in dire need of nurturing — wants huge first innings scores in the same way a motorbike requires an ashtray.
A huge total by the team batting first generally leads to one of two results; a grinding response like Alastair Cook's incredible feat of endurance in seeking a draw or a complete capitulation ending in a blow out victory.
Games like the one at Premadasa Stadium in 1997-98 where India's 537 for 8 (centuries to Sachin Tendulkar, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mohammed Azharuddin), was obliterated by Sri Lanka's 6/952 (a triple century to Sanath Jayasuriya and a double by Roshan Mahanama), become an exercise in futility and statistical self-gratification.
Most right-minded fans want a two-pronged contest - the one between bat and ball and the other between two engaged teams - with their favoured side winning in a close finish. Even a contest at the other end of the scale like that between India and Australia at the Wankhede Stadium in 2004-05, on a difficult pitch which resulted in two of the four totals accumulating less than a hundred, did have the redeeming feature of providing a result.
Nevertheless, any pitch that allows a front-line bowler never mind a part-timer like Michael Clarke, to take 6 for 9, isn't a good one. Which begs the question: what is the definition of a good pitch? The practical answer is often supplied by the best curators. When asked before a game what they're hoping for, they reply; "I'd like to see a result late on the fifth day."
Les Burdett. Pic/Getty Images
Notice they never say which team they want to win. The good curators (or groundsmen) are like players; they have pride in their performance and aim to produce a surface which is fair to the batsmen and bowlers of both teams. That's why the preparation of a pitch should be solely in the hands of the curators or groundsmen, with no input from either players or administrators, both of whom have a vested interest in the state of the surface.
Les Burdett, a long-time curator at the picturesque Adelaide Oval, was one of those who sought a result after tea on the fifth day. He often achieved his aim but even when he fell agonizingly short it usually provided great excitement. The match in 2012-13 where Faf du Plessis' marathon rearguard action saved the match for South Africa, provided as much drama and tension as Australia's dramatic last-minute Ashes victory at the same ground in 2006-07.
The moral of the story; provide good pitches and the best players will usually produce decent entertainment. One of the side benefits of the increase in short form cricket has been the increased haste in Test match batting. Add to that regulations which allow time lost to weather to be made up and the percentage of results achieved in Test cricket is greatly improved.
Whilst this often frenetic batting occasionally leads to monumental collapses like Australia's first innings 60 at Trent Bridge in this year's Ashes series, I'd rather watch that debacle than the mind-numbing cricket played in Abu Dhabi.
If the administrators are serious about promoting Test cricket, they should come down hard on any player, coach or official who tries to influence the preparation of a pitch. And while they're at it, they should threaten to take Tests away from administrations that conjure up lifeless pitches; if they transgress a second time, follow through on the threat.
For both teams, the pitch is an important participant in every Test. Producing a good surface is just as crucial to the contest as the performance of any individual player.
This column was written before the final day of the England vs Pakistan Test at Abu Dhabi