WHY BLAME THE PITCH?
By:- Vedam Hariharan
England won the toss, batted first and were getting along well at 74 for 2 at one stage. They were on course for a decent 1st innings score of around 300 plus. However, England lost their remaining eight wickets for 38 runs and were all out for 112. Why was this sudden collapse? Was it the pitch or was it the batters’ technique, was it the Pink ball or was it to do with the batters’ mindset? In fact, 18 of the 27 wickets that fell to spinners in the Test match fell to straight balls. If almost 65% of dismissals went to straight balls, either by way of LBW or bowled, would you blame the pitch? Bear in mind that some of the English batters hardly moved their feet to play the spinners, as if they were rabbits facing headlights.
Regarding a cricket ball, one needs to use very limited amount of natural dye on the normal red cricket ball. However, in order to retain the pink colour on the pink ball, they have to use more lubricant on the ball, and this is where the ball changes character. So, when the ball does not hit the seam when it pitches but hits the smooth part of the ball, it tends to retain a lot of its horizontal velocity, rather than slowing down after pitching – we heard batters say that they felt the ball seemed to come faster and thereby beating them. Of course, bear in mind that some balls pitched and turned significantly, and this could have played on the batters’ perception and anticipation as to where the ball might be after pitching. This basically had them playing down the wrong line.
With the Decision Review System (DRS) in place the technique is to play the original line of the ball and not the expected line of a turning ball. Virat Kohli batted as though he was protecting the inside edge of his bat thereby ruling out LBW and bowled. In other words, he made absolutely certain that if the ball is in line and expected to hit the stumps, it would hit his bat. Kohli’s approach was that if the ball were to turn sharply and take the outer edge, so be it. Yes, it certainly was a challenging pitch to bat on, and required adjustments to technique and mindset. This is where we appreciate the greatness of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli for their ability to reflect, change quickly and play to the situation. The mantra is ‘thinking on your feet’!
England’s defeat was a combination of their technique, mindset, pink ball, and the pitch. The Indian team in the last few years has grown in stature; it has developed players for the courses. Great credit goes to Bharat Arun and others who have planned and worked efficiently. We now have a good bank of fast bowlers and spinners. The player management system has worked well, and it was good that Kohli, an inspirational leader who we need for many more years, was given some time off from the Australian tour.
(Vedam Hariharan is an ECB level 3 coach, now also doing a PhD in Sports Psychology and Sociology at The University of Stirling. A former Karnataka and Kerala Ranji trophy player, Hariharan is presently the Cricket professional at The Glasgow Academy and the head coach at The Glasgow Accies cricket club in Scotland. The views expressed here are personal.)