Over the past few weeks there has been much debate as to what is the best way to solve one of cricket’s biggest problems. The gap between bat and ball has widened to a ridiculous level, to the point where bowlers barely stand a chance. Many solutions have been proposed, with some suggesting a reduction in the size of bats and some suggesting that the ball needs to be improved to keep up with advancements in modern bat technology. While I do not disagree with either of these suggestions, and while I feel that bat sizes need to be reduced for player safety, I do not think that they will solve the problem. The root cause of this issue is the pitches, which make life incredibly easy for batsmen.
All over the world, pitches are the responsibility of groundsmen, who prepare the surface they see fit. This all sounds good, but there are some significant issues which are raised by this policy. Firstly, the ICC has no control over the surfaces that host international matches. There are rules in place to regulate both the bat and the ball, but there is nothing in the laws of the game about the pitch. While the umpires do need to check that the surface is safe for play, they cannot control much else. This is compounded by the second main issue, the fact that the host country does have control over the surfaces that host international matches. The groundsman is generally in the employ of the overarching national association, and as such they carry out whatever order they are given. The result of this is that certain countries and areas have built up a reputation over time based on the kind of pitches they prepare. In England, pitches are generally green, with plenty of movement for bowlers. In India, pitches are the complete opposite, providing uneven bounce and plenty of spin.
This difference in pitches is the main cause of the current disparity between bat and ball. While there are some surfaces on which bowlers can thrive, these are few and far between and there is generally not much a bowler can do beyond the first morning. In Australia, the pitches that are prepared are so good for batting that big scores are commonplace. Ultimately, it is not what the fans want. Nobody could look at the second test between Australia and New Zealand last summer, a game which ended as a high-scoring draw, and suggest that it was in any way entertaining. Sure, the game went for five days, but it was neither close nor exciting. There was no way the bowlers could break through, and the game petered out. By contrast, the third test of that series was the best of the summer. The pitch was prepared differently to protect the new pink ball, and the greener surface made life incredibly difficult for the batsmen. The game was over in three days, but the contest was very tense and could have easily gone either way. The next test match to be played in Australia was the first test against the West Indies, starting a couple of weeks later. In that match, Shaun Marsh and Adam Voges put on 452 for the fourth wicket, all but obliterating their opposition in a day.
Bowler friendly pitches make life very difficult for the batsmen, and this is a good thing. Nobody remembers a century made carting unfortunate bowlers around on a flat deck, because it is the kind of thing anyone could do. It is the centuries made in tough conditions, where the bowlers have the upper hand, which stick in the memory. The fans want tight contests over anything else, and these do not come from lifeless pitches where bowlers cannot play a role. It is time the ICC realise that bad pitches are the main cause of inequality between batsmen and bowlers, and it is time for them to do something about it.