Many of cricket's glorious uncertainties are created by the pitch. The wicket holds the key to the game, decides squad composition, determines strategy and has a role in field placements.
From WG Grace to Gautam Gambhir, players have tried to crack the DNA of the pitch but have had limited success. Like the Indus Valley script, the pitch continues to stump the pundit and punter, and the truth is predicting the nature of the wicket is an industry not a science.
Tracks supposed to be dead have suddenly come to life with balls leaping off a length; flat decks have turned square on Day One.
Not that there is a complete black hole about wickets - there are some fundamentals which are well known. A fresh track, for instance, will assist the new ball, a well-rolled pitch allows batsmen to hit through the line. A grassless surface brings spinners into play and if the base is hard, expect bounce and carry. But, quite often, even these basics don't hold. Pitches are supposed to gradually deteriorate but experience suggests that some ease out on Day II and III.
Changing the nature of the pitch, or to prepare a customised track, is easier said than done. Pitches behave the way they do, their nature does not change regardless of the level of intervention. Which is why Perth will remain quick and Kotla low and slow. Some years ago, Pakistan relaid its tracks by importing soil and expertise but nothing happened. It seems pitches and human beings have in-built genes which fix their behaviour patterns.
While there is a consistent call to make sporting (read quick) pitches, wickets across the world, especially in England and the West Indies, have actually slowed down. With serious money riding on matches, sponsors/officials/TV networks want play to last five days because a shorter contest would result in crippling financial losses.
In a way, it is good that pitches defeat experts and preparation remains a hit-and-miss. The uncertainty of wickets is part of the game, the suspense about them adds charm to the bat-ball contest and makes matches more challenging.