Thursday, 17 September 2009

Let's sort the tracks

Whatever happened to good cricket wickets?

You know what I mean. The ones where good batsmen could get their heads down and score some runs, yet bowlers who were prepared to bend their backs could get some return. The sort of track that we used to have at Derby in the Kim Barnett era of captaincy, in fact.

I grow increasingly frustrated in seeing cricket matches that are a complete and utter waste of time, as conditions are so heavily weighted in favour of batsmen. Taunton is the worst, Edgbaston is not far away, but it is becoming the norm and it’s crazy.

Derbyshire have had ten draws this season yet have played purposeful, bright and aggressive cricket for most of it. They have been frustrated on several occasions by wickets where they would have been as well bowling with an orange as a cricket ball and it makes me worry for the future of the game.

For cricket to continue to be a genuine spectacle, there has to be a possibility that things could happen - for either side. I remember years ago my Dad telling me that he was convinced that some fans at Derby County would have been happy watching Derby play a team of dustbins as long as they scored plenty of goals. Cricket is going that way. You bat for a day and a half and score 500, we’ll then do the same, then we’ll have a token run chase – but not too serious, mind – on the last afternoon.

A look at the statistics says it all. In Division Two ONLY this season, there are fifteen batsmen averaging in excess of 50, seventeen others over 40 and seventeen more over 30. That’s 49 players between 9 teams.

At the same time, there are only nineteen bowlers who have bowled regularly who have an average under 30 and only five of them under 25 runs per wicket. That tells a story and one that needs to be addressed.

Clubs should be applauded, not penalised for producing result pitches. Perhaps the best track Derbyshire have played on this year was at Chesterfield for the Northamptonshire game. You could score runs, but had to keep your wits about you, while bowlers felt they might get something if they worked at the game.

How much better for the game! We could start to think about introducing a little spice into the game by leaving wickets uncovered once a match has started (except at night), but that wouldn’t go down too well, especially with the accountants. Games would be done in two days given our recent climate, but there are skewed statistics coming from the modern game.

If one went by average alone, Steve Stubbings was a better batsman than Arnold Hamer. He was better than Donald Carr, Laurie Johnson, Stan Worthington, Les Townsend. All these fine players had to battle away on uncovered tracks and ended their careers with an average in the top 20’s or early 30’s. Fans of a certain vintage will laugh to suggest Stubbo, great servant that he was, had anything like their ability.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not decrying the ability of the current players. Chris Rogers is probably in the top six batsmen we've ever had, while Wayne Madsen may eventually be regarded in the top bracket. But they're never going to need to show the sticky track technique that Hobbs, Hammond and May were famed for.

I would love nothing more than for the ECB to allow clubs to leave a little grass on wickets, or maybe introduce balls with a bigger, more pronounced seam. Durham have a fine side, but they’ve been aided by having result tracks at the Riverside. As long as batsmen aren’t in danger, I see nothing wrong with it. If duration of matches was the issue, why not return to three-day games? It would free up time for more Twenty/20….

More seriously, it would allow another tournament in, or the players time to recover and recharge their batteries between matches. There’ll be those who would use the same argument as that in reducing from 50 overs to 40 in one day games.

“We won’t be properly prepared for international matches”. Well, we’re not that good at it now, when we’ve been preparing for years. We’ve played Twenty/20 longer than any other country, but most have overtaken us.

I’m maybe in a minority of one here, but batting four days on featherbed tracks is scant preparation for facing the Aussies in a Test series. I know we won, but it was down to them having two bad sessions in a series. Let’s try to help the bowlers a little. We’d all see the benefit and the batsmen would have really earned their averages.

No comments: