Justin Langer: Great pitches can keep Test cricket alive
Last year's deck at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Ashes Test was rated 'poor' by ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle after 1081 runs were scored in 387.3 overs for the loss of 24 wickets
There was a time when all discussions about playing surfaces were restricted to Test matches in Asia. Teams from outside the sub-continent not particularly adept at playing the turning ball looked at pitches suspiciously, suggesting that they were undone less by technical inadequacies and more by designer tracks tailor-made to accentuate the hosts' strength.
The wheel has come a full circle now, with pitches in Australia too coming under the scanner. Last year's deck at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Ashes Test was rated 'poor' by ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle after 1081 runs were scored in 387.3 overs for the loss of 24 wickets.
The slowness of the surface, which provided no assistance whatsoever to skillful bowlers of any ilk, meant runs were scored at only 2.84 runs per over, and bowlers needed 16.2 overs to prise a batsman out on an average.
The MCG surface, therefore, has attracted more than the usual attention in the lead-up to this year's Boxing Day Test. Matt Page, who took over as curator earlier this year, is confident the deck will throw up a result, and Justin Langer hoped for the same, though his tone conveyed some skepticism.
"It's great to see some grass," Australia's coach said yesterday. "I've seen [Sheffield] Shield cricket here over the last six or seven years, seen the Test here, and I've said forever the most important thing in Test cricket - international cricket - are the pitches. If you get great pitches, you'll have a contest between bat and ball, Test cricket will be alive and well.
"If we play on flat wickets, then it becomes a really boring game, and that's from someone who loves Test cricket. Hopefully, it's a contest between bat and ball because it's really important, not just for this series, not just for this Test, but also for world cricket."
Former Sri Lankan captain Madugalle labelled the pitch at the new Perth Stadium which hosted the second Test last week 'average', a ranking that has caught many unawares. Langer was clearly one of them. "I was really surprised actually. I guess a couple stayed low," the former opener, who formed a terrific tandem with Matthew Hayden, remarked. "But I thought it was such entertaining Test cricket - that was the fastest pitch I've ever seen in Perth and I've been there a long time. I thought it was really exciting Test cricket, got a result on the fifth day. From a personal point of view, I love seeing cricket played like that."
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