As the painstaking first day between England and India spluttered to a close in Nottingham, such was the criticism of the lifeless Trent Bridge pitch that head groundsman Steve Birks felt compelled to make a short statement.
Birks clarified his incentive had been to produce a surface with “pace, bounce and carry” but didn’t elaborate further on why that “hasn’t happened.”
Admittedly, it’s difficult not to be cynical as to the machinations behind such a pitch being produced.
For in an age when a county’s finances are ever more fragile, a Test match such as this—not lasting five days and producing five days of gate receipts and ground sales—is a frightening prospect for even the most well-off of counties.
And such concerns have been perpetuated by the competition for hosting Test matches in England becoming fiercer as more grounds seek Test match status, and the bidding process has intensified.
But it is perhaps unfair and naive to blame the Trent Bridge groundsman himself for the pitch that was produced here and, perhaps, the Nottinghamshire Board as well, for their situation is not a comfortable one.
However, while Nottinghamshire may see producing an unresponsive pitch that all but guarantees five days of cricket as the most risk-free solution to their financial concerns, such a viewpoint takes the support of the English public for granted, which is a fundamental long-term risk far greater than producing a pitch that may manifest an exciting but short Test match.
While strong ticket sales can essentially be guaranteed, especially so for a match against India, such support is not unconditional.
If the cricket itself, time and time again, ceases to entertain then, in the years to come, Nottinghamshire may live to regret their insouciance towards the public who are not merely paying to watch 90 overs of cricket; they are paying to watch 90 overs of quality cricket—quality that was in short supply Wednesday.
Test cricket is, organically, a truly special and beautiful product and one that’s intrinsic nature as a game governed by variable conditions should be defended and then promoted, not undermined by artificial pitches such as these.
Of course we are only 90 overs into the Test match, and Trent Bridge is notoriously a venue whose cricket is largely dictated by atmospheric conditions, which are thought to be more overcast as the Test wears on.
Indeed, like at Lord’s and Headingley against Sri Lanka, we may well end up with a close finish and, perhaps, even a result here at Trent Bridge. However, a close finish and a result do not necessarily make a good Test match.
Such is the nature of a Test match: The means to an end matter as much as the end itself. And on day one at Trent Bridge, like at days one to four at Lord’s, the cricket struggled to capture the imagination.
On perhaps an even more pertinent note, such pitches do little to further the ambitions of the England team. Of course, the issue of tailoring pitches is a controversial one, but not only does this pitch not assist England, it also plays into the hands of the Indians who are certainly more familiar with the low, slow, turgid cricket produced on day one.
This Trent Bridge has not been engineered to entertain, and it could be disastrous in the long-term financially. It doesn’t help the England team.