Friday, July 30, 2010

Death By Batting

You don’t know what a sigh of relief is unless you have had one now that you have realized that the ongoing test match between India and Sri Lanka just ended. In five days of relentless onslaught by batsmen, only 17 wickets fell. Not a single session was dominated by the bowling side, though there was only a small point in the match where Sri Lanka could have gotten through to India, but then Tendulkar the immaculate accumulator stepped up to the plate. Cricinfo ran a good stats article today about the batting averages of Asian batsmen within and outside Asia. Not surprisingly, only Tendulkar has an average of 50 both inside and outside the sub-continent. Players like Jayawardene confirm their stature as subcontinental batting bullies. Jayawardene in a classic case. In this test match, he broke Don Bradman’s record for most number of centuries in a particular location. This was his 10th or 11th century at the SSC. Ask yourself: how valuable is this record if this is the regular fashion in which this pitch plays? In fact, Sri Lanka has a simple plan – win the toss, rack up a big score, and hope the score induces enough pressure that the team chasing cracks for them to win. This happened in the first test match, where Malinga and Murali (with Malinga in particular) exerted the pressure and got through to India. What is remarkable is that Sri Lanka seems to win the tosses with regularly frequency! Maybe Dhoni should skip batting practice and do some practice to ensure he calls the toss right :)

This match brought back memories of test matches in Sri Lanka in the early 90s. Sri Lanka consciously prepared home tracks with the objective of ‘not losing’. Winning would have been a bonus. Batsmen racked up huge scores at that time (and of course, India was on the receiving end on several occasions), including the highest test score of all time. But it made for terrible test cricket, with no hope of a result in sight. Sub-continental pitches are notorious for being batsmen-oriented, but statistics highlight the attitude of teams in play. Sri Lanka and matches played in Sri Lanka have the highest percentage in terms of number of draws for matches played.

Harsha Bhogle’s article today talks about how curators are burying bowlers with these kind of pitches. That is spot on. I’d like to add that they are burying the spectators and the game too. Test cricket has enough going for it to thrive, but you need to get the bowlers back in the equation. The ongoing matches in England are a case in point. Australia is due in India in October for two test matches. The Ashes hype aside, this particular match-up has been consistently produced good cricket for a few years now. I hope the pitches for these matches are sporting enough to have a chance for a result. That’s the least that can be done. And oh, no more India-Sri Lanka matches please!

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