Flat Pitch Emergency

Is it over yet? Geez, the 2nd Test against New Zealand was the dullest Test I’ve watched in years.

John Townsend of the West Australian notes “it is the first time in 45 years of WACA Tests that each wicket has cost more than 60 runs. And only twice before in Test history have opposing batsmen managed to reach 250 in the same game.”

Surely something must be done about the dead flat wickets we’re seeing in Australia.

Here’s a question for you: In the past six Test matches Australia’s cricketers have played on home soil, how many times do you think they have racked up 500 runs or more in the first innings?

The answer is….six. Every time. On average, during the first innings of those six Tests, Australia has scored 540 runs. The opposition hasn’t been too shabby either: in the four Tests against India and two to date against New Zealand, Australia’s opponents have scored an average of 456 in the first innings.

Here’s another one: in those six Tests at home, how many times has Australia been bowled out twice in the match?

Answer: none. On average Australia has lost eight wickets in the first innings and six in the second.

And the results from those six Tests? Three wins for Australia and three draws. In the decade prior to 2014, only six Tests out of 56 played at home (11% of the total) ended in draws. In other words, in the past year alone, we’ve had half as many draws as in the previous ten years combined.

The implications are alarming. For a start, the cricket is really dull. Crowds at the recent WACA Test against New Zealand were at one point chanting ‘booooring’ and they were right. There was no contest whatsoever between bat and ball in Perth. For Pete’s sake, no less than six centuries were scored in that game, with two scores of 250 or more! The bowlers didn’t stand a chance.

Moreover, the flat wickets are killing our fast bowlers. Nobody is suggesting every pitch must be a raging seamer, but without a sensible balance offering opportunities for both bowlers and batsmen, the bowlers will inevitably suffer both physically and emotionally.

As the man himself noted, Mitchell Johnson’s retirement was largely a natural function of age and burnout, but he also conceded that he felt like a bowling machine out there at the WACA. It was just too hard, and at his age the prospect of slogging it out for no return was just not enticing. He said he wasn’t enjoying it and who can blame him? Ryan Harris was more direct in his assessment, saying “I am sure that was part of his decision making. I am sure there are probably a few other bowlers around thinking the same thing.” He added “I think the wickets are ridiculously flat, especially when you are playing a home series.”

Some in the media are suggesting both Peter Siddle and Pattinson will play in the 3rd Test in Adelaide because Josh Hazlewood is worn out after bowling 79 overs in the space of a week on flat unresponsive wickets.  Similarly, Mitchell Starc bowled 79.5 overs in the first two Tests, and he has bone spurs in his ankle that will require surgery at some point! It doesn’t sound like a sensible way to prolong Australia’s fast bowling potency.

Now we have Victoria’s coach David Saker warning that if recalled paceman James Pattinson is asked to bowl long spells on flat pitches, he is likely to break down again. Presumably the same could be said of any bowler.

One theory suggests Australia’s flat pitches are the result of a directive from Cricket Australia a couple of years ago, who wanted to give batsmen more opportunities to improve their games and compete more effectively at Test level. “Green tops were denying batsmen the chance to develop their techniques, went the CA theory.” This makes no sense to me at all. Won’t you merely end up with a bunch of batsmen lacking the skills to perform on seaming or spinning wickets? The poor performance of Australia’s batsmen in recent years in the UAE, India and England might lead one to conclude this is already happening.

Or is the problem of flat pitches all a function of viewer ratings and money?  One can’t help but wonder if something changed after the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia. Assisted by a freakish performance from Mitchell Johnson, Australia prevailed 5-0. The problem, however, for promoters, advertisers, broadcasters and stadium proprietors was that only two of the five Ashes Tests saw play last until the fifth day. The final Test ended in three days, the First and Fourth in less than four days. Was a demand for flat wickets issued to Australia’s groundsmen by those who revenues are only maximized when Test matches last five days? If so, was such a directive endorsed (either tacitly or overtly) by Cricket Australia?

And so we are left with boring Test matches, batsmen racking up centuries with unnatural frequency and bowlers so fed up they are breaking down or quitting all together.

When the West Indies arrives for three Tests soon, how much higher will David Warner and Steve Smith push their batting averages? And will we have any fast bowlers left at the end of it all?


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