Queering the pitch

A sub-continental cricket ground is a veritable beehive of activity on the eve of a Test match. The teams fine tune their game at the nets, hordes of media personnel look for the slightest of cues from the practice sessions, security personnel stay on toes trying to keep media and others away from the players and the pitch and TV crew lay miles of cable around the perimeter of the ground.
Everyone is busy, indeed.
There is some standard fare. For instance, the pitch is an object of considerable curiosity and team composition subject of much discussion. Then the two captains take turns at offering routine answers to routine questions at the mandatory media conference. Neither of them reveals much in any case but the reporters are all ears lest the odd pearl of wisdom drops from any skipper.
India captain Rahul Dravid’s responses to questions on the pitch, team selection and batting order are predictably standard fare. That challenges the media to come up with questions which stimulate his intellect and allow him to answer at length. On the final day of the Lahore Test, I asked him if he would share what transpired on the opening morning when TV cameras caught former captain Sourav Ganguly, coach Greg Chappell and him having an animated discussion.
“What I would like to say is that there was no issue. We were discussing cricket but what we discussed is between us. Please do not interpret everything as an issue. Or every discussion as a problem or confrontation. I can only request the media not to blow things out of proportion. If it is still misinterpreted, I will have to learn to live with it.”
Pressed to share more about his quandary that seemed to have sparked the scene, he was reticent. “I was undecided (about who would open the innings with Virender Sehwag) and made up my mind the night before the game,” he said. “It was not bravado. Please do not read too much into all this. We picked up the best team and chose the batting order with a specific strategy in mind. You can’t get all decisions right all the time but I do what I think will help the team the best.”
On Friday, a day before the second Test, I asked him how he looked at the challenge faced by bowlers in Lahore. “It wasn’t the easiest of conditions to bowl in. It offered the bowlers the challenge of finding ways to keep the runs down. It is unfair to expect them to blast sides out. On such occasions, we do lower the bar and let them enjoy the challenge. It is rather like the batters having to sometimes play on green tops or on rank turners. Such conditions help them to get better in more helpful conditions. I see such tracks as an opportunity.”
Though Dravid indicated that the pitch here could play a bit up and down in the second half of the game, it is evident that the Pakistanis are on the backfoot. Their safety-first posture is inexplicable, considering that the team had just beaten England and that its confidence was really high.
Instead of riding on such confidence and testing India on tracks that would assist bowlers as well, Pakistan has had to defend the flat pitches that ensure the bowlers have their teeth drawn without visiting the dentist. Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq has been at pains to explain to anyone who is ready to listen that he wanted sporting tracks for the series.
However, he has few takers and nearly everyone believes that his former vice-captain Mohammed Yousuf and he have had a major role in ensuring that flat tracks were made for the first two Tests in Lahore and Faisalabad.
Another draw, although a slightly less boring one, may be on the cards. And then the outcome of the series could boil down to the final Test at the National Stadium in Karachi. The players and their fans deserve better.
espnstar.com, January 22, 2006