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Posted on | October 26, 2009 | No Comments
England’s bowlers have taken a fair bit of stick for their inconsistency and I think some of it is unfair.
They are a product of the modern era which has brought bland pitches and a heavy programme of one-day cricket. As a result they tend to bang it in ‘back of a length’ in one-day cricket because they don’t want to pitch it up and get whacked which is all too easy with heavy bats and fielding restrictions allied to flat pitches.
This pitch situation in England has been going on too long and this summer resulted in 82 draws and only 27 results in the county championship. That’s not good. Variety is the spice of the game at all levels from school, club, county and Test; the one thing everyone does when they get to the ground is go and have a look at the pitch. Players want to know how it will play; will it be a belter or one that makes batting difficult? The pitch has a huge bearing on the quality of cricket played.
Many years ago the ruling body in England tried to take the variety out of the game by insisting that all the counties followed the formula laid down by Harry Brind, the groundsman at The Oval. He used Surrey loam and Ongar clay and produced good, fast bouncy pitches which turned on the fourth and fifth days of a Test match. But it hasn’t worked for every other ground in England and the board’s attempt at a panacea has, over the years, led to dull cricket. If we wanted uniform pitches we may as well play on artificial turf – but who wants that?
When I was at a dinner in 2008 given for those who have made a century of hundreds in first class cricket John Edrich, my old opening partner, smiled wistfully and said: “Just imagine Fiery, these flat pitches and four days to bat, there’d be a good few triple hundreds to be had.”
He’s not wrong either. When full covering first came in to county cricket in 1979 I averaged over 100 in an English summer and I was 38 years old at the time! Mark Ramprakash is doing that now, cashing in on the easiest of batting conditions yet his county, Surrey, can hardly win a match.
The modern day bowler rolls up for each game and finds a similar flat surface with no pace and consequently those old fashioned virtues of line and length go out the window. I think one of the biggest losses to English cricket was Angus Fraser. A bit like Glen McGrath he had a wonderful consistency of line and length although not quite so quick. But he gave the captain control; there were no free hits from Fraser and I found that out when I first played against him in my last season for Yorkshire at Lord’s in 1986. I know the difficulty he created and I thought at the time “this kid can bowl.” But now we have T20, 50 over cricket and next year 40 over one-dayers and the quality of the bowling suffers as the pitches get flatter and flatter.
Matthew Hoggard is a good example. A fine swing bowler who in Test matches put the ball in the ‘corridor of uncertainty’. Yet in one-day cricket he was not so successful. That skill of bowling line and length made him predictable and if it didn’t swing batsmen could set themselves to hit through the line of the ball and smack it. In his formative years Jimmy Anderson never had the chance to bowl on uncovered pitches or strips with a bit of life in them and as a result he’s not thinking line and length, he’s thinking ‘magic ball’. He wants to make it nip back, pitch leg and hit off, or generate extra bounce and pace. Everything is an effort to produce the wicket taking delivery so at times he’s all over the place.
The one thing you always get from Jimmy is effort. He’s a fine athlete, excellent in the field and always shows his enthusiasm for the game He’s mercurial with the ball but a product of the modern game and I sympathise with the bowlers of today who tend to bowl it all over the place and then produce a killer ball.
We need to get some variety back in the pitches so it’s a real contest between bat and ball, that’s been the essence of the game since it began. I am pleased to hear that the ECB are looking into the quality of county pitches and showing some concern about getting more results into our championship.