These are some of the highly subjective however intriguing issues with supporters having varying opinions on both sides of the aisle, so to speak. Having said that, these ought to be addressed in one way or another to avoid constroversies and complaints that so frequently arise.
No two pitches can be similar in characteristics and performance and this adds to the appeal and mystique of the game. Groundsmen have different preferred variations of methods which also contribute to unique properties of pitch.
But perhaps an effort can be made to create a surface that would offer a balanced competition and opportunity for both teams.
There have always been complaints about pitches by visiting teams. Home teams historically have the right to have a pitch that suits their strengths and strikes at opposition’s weaknesses so winning or losing the coin toss becomes vital.
This raises a question about fairness and neutrality of that practice. Does a home team have carte blanche when it comes to pitch surface? Should a visiting team have any say or right in it?
Uniform and consistent pace and bounce at both batting ends are also an important characteristic in need to be addressed.
ODI and T20 pitches are tailor-made in favor of batters to generate entertainment and attract audience. This is good for business but pitches should also give “reasonable” opportunity to bowlers while providing uniform performance during the whole game.
Pitches for Tests create the most controversy and complaints because this is the most lengthy and important format of the game.
Because of pitch, home team often has an overwhelming advantage and visiting team is slightly put on the backfoot even before the game begins. Therefore, the above asked questions become more relevant.
How green should be the pitch? This is the most dreadful question especially for visiting batters from the Subcontinent where dead pitches rule supreme.
Should a certain amount of grass on a pitch be standardized to give bowlers an equal opportunity? Grass assists in off the seam movement and even surface distribution of grass layer contributes to lower pitch degradation/cracking during the course of a Test match.
In Subcontinent, weather is mostly dry and humidity is almost absent during cricketing season, so amount of swing through the air is low. This lack of humid conditions also inhibits use of reverse swing to some degree.
Should there be a certain percentage of moisture allowed in the surface for a Test match? Dry pitches produce more bounce but are potential minefields as these are more susceptible to cracking and off the seam movement is less.
Dry pitches also tend to deteriorate fast and get powdery at the surface soon thus cutting pace off the pitch, lowering bounce but do give more traction to spinners.
This is a very difficult question because it will depend on ability of the surface to retain moisture for longer duration. Would it be possible or practical? It’s hard to tell.
Pitches in Subcontinent are predominantly not pacy or bouncy, with some exceptions. Maybe curators should try and bravely experiment with innovative preparation methods and dirt compositions to create pacy and bouncy pitches.
Lack of this has hindered emergence of a regular supply of true fast bowlers especially from India.
---Testing Pitch Characteristics
Nowadays, equipment is available and used to test bounce and pace. This should be very helpful in finding a right balance of pitch characteristics to suit bowlers and batters alike.
Where bats have received much attention and research, ball development has lagged behind.
There are many popular brands like Kookaburra, Duke and SG but no single brand is universal to all formats and to compound matters further, bowlers have their own preferences as well as different opinions about a given brand.
Kookaburra is good for pace bowlers and has somewhat of a durable shine but has thinner seam and reportedly go soft (adversely affecting batters in playing shots) and loses seam prominence earlier than Duke or SG balls.
It is only fine for southern hemisphere and not for dry and dead pitches in Subcontinent. Also doesn’t have a good feel in bowler’s hand.
It is the choice for ODIs.
Duke and SG brands have more pronounced seam that suits off the pitch lateral seam movement. Duke is excellent for seamers after initial overs and reverses the most later on but seam dies down in turn also affecting spinners from getting enough grip in the hand.
It does not last long on hard pitches in Subcontinent but gives more reverse swing than other brands.
Spinners go for SG because pronounced and thicker seam gives more traction off the pitch but provides very little reverse swing.
ICC should look into developing a standard cricket ball and put some research into suitable leather types & treatments, seam height and toughness, seam thread type, shine durability, shape retention and standard inner core.
It maybe very difficult to develop a ball that will give bowlers (seamers, swing bowlers and spinners alike) and batters an equal opportunity but still an effort should be made toward that end whatever the results might be.
If a standard ball is not possible or desired then perhaps it will only be fair to allow bowlers/bowling team to choose brand of the ball as batters choose their own brands when it comes to bats.
ICC’s Law 19.1 applies to the boundary and states minimum and maximum boundary limit:
“The playing area shall be a minimum of 150 yards (137.16 metres) from boundary to boundary square of the pitch, with the shorter of the two square boundaries being a minimum 65 yards (59.43 metres). The straight boundary at both ends of the pitch shall be a minimum of 70 yards (64.00 metres). Distances shall be measured from the centre of the pitch to be used.
In all cases the aim shall be to provide the largest playing area, subject to no boundary exceeding 90 yards (82.29 meters) from the centre of the pitch to be used.
Any ground which has been approved to host international cricket prior to Oct. 1, 2007, or which is currently under construction as of this date which is unable to conform to these new minimum dimensions shall be exempt.
In such cases the regulations in force immediately prior to the adoption of these regulations shall apply.”
Currently for a large part, in an ODI and T20, boundaries dimensions are kept to a minimum to aide batters in hitting 4s and 6s for the benefit/entertainment of the crowd and audience at home watching on TV.
The question is concerns most here is should runs be allowed to be gifted so freely or should runs be “earned”? Seldom do we see batters going for 3 runs whereas in not-so-distant past it was common to see them running 2s, 3s and even 4.
This also contributes to batter’s mentality of slogging boundaries from the crease instead of creating 1s, 2s and 3d.
Would it create more excitement, energy and entertainment if boundaries were to be enlarged to allow more runs to be scored by actually “running” and not big shots?
Shouldn’t such an amount of runs like 4 or 6 be earned by making more effort and taking more risk than is the custom now?
Australia used to have the longest boundaries where batters could be seen running to score. Melbourne Cricket Ground stands out in that respect and perhaps Adelaide Oval but only for longer straight boundary. Australia also used to have boundaries nearly touching the fence billboards.
Boundaries demarcated near the fence were fun but this did make it difficult and dangerous for the fielder to chase, dive and stop the ball near the boundary.
Still this is not a problem that cannot be overcome, at least when new arenas are built. Some space behind the demarcation is necessary for the fielder but it has to be near enough to the stands for the entertainment of the crowd.
It is would be refreshing to see grounds providing maximum possible boundary dimensions to allow for more scoring through running thus forcing players to work on their physique, stamina, touches and placements instead of wild slogs.
ODIs have colored uniforms and shirt numbers which making watching pleasant. Similarly uniforms for Tests can also be modified by adding colored stripes and shirt numbers while keeping the traditional touch.
To make matches more interesting, double play maybe allowed for stumps and run out. This would add a very interesting dimension to the play. It can be initially tried in T20s.
2 Balls per an ODI inning
It is often seen during a ODI that white ball has to be changed primarily because of discoloration. Using two balls per innings in alternate overs could be tried.
This will give more edge to the bowlers but batters can also benefit from the harder balls for longer duration of the inning.
Overs allowed to a bowler per an ODI inning
Number of overs allowed for a bowler in an ODI can be increased with two bowlers allowed 13 each and two others 12 each.
While this may seem to favor stronger teams but will also help weaker teams in that they will be able to use more of their best bowlers and avoid overwhelming humiliation.
In a game steeped so much on tradition, changes have been slow, bitterly opposed and infrequent.
This process will be difficult and highly contentious, however, game has to evolve to keep/increase its appeal, entertainment and to attract more worldwide following and audience.