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Why giving spin to fast is okay?

Is it a colonial standard or an imperial reaction that labels a spinning pitch sub-standard and a fast wicket a cricketing pitch, asks Prabhash Joshi.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2006 00:54 IST

This column is for the very kind attention of Messrs Barry Richards, Ian Chappell, Tony Greig and all the other experts from the 'great' cricketing nations.

The South Africans played their first Champions Trophy match at the Brabourne Stadium against New Zealand on October 16. It was a virgin pitch, typical Mumbai fare, helping both the seamers and the spinners - especially the spinners.

Normally, pitches in India are slow and have low bounce. It is not really unusual for the ball to stop a bit. There is nothing un-cricketlike in this. Pitches in each part of the world vary according to the physical characteristics of the terrain. With the exception of some pitches in South Africa and the WACA strip in Perth, wickets in other countries do not have much pace and bounce. Softer pitches in England are helpful to seam bowling like nowhere else in the world.

Only New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming read the Brabourne pitch correctly on October 16, scoring a patient 89. The other New Zealand batsmen failed. Yes, the South African captain Graeme Smith, a non-regular off-spinner, turned the ball square - but the ball turned slowly. Any batsman adept at playing spin would have negotiated the turn without much ado. But the South Africans displayed neither patience nor the technique to bat on such a pitch. No wonder they lost, all out for 108 in response to New Zealand's 195.

Smith, though, created a great fuss. Declaring that the pitch was not up to international standards, he complained that the bounce was uneven; the ball was stopping before coming on to the bat; the ball was turning square; the pitch was a spinner's paradise. Fleming agreed with Smith. But the match statistics disagree with both: fast bowlers took 12 wickets and spinners got only seven. It is worth remembering that Sri Lanka bowled out the West Indies for 80 on the same track.

Such was the outcry against a pitch that helped the spinners that the CCI feared the final of the tournament could slip out of their ground. Ultimately, a saviour in the form of curator Andy Atkinson arrived from England and sprayed PVA on the pitch to save the Champions Trophy.

The same South Africans played Pakistan at Mohali in a knockout match. The Mohali pitch had a lot of grass. It had pace and bounce and lateral movement in such abundance that the South African batsmen, born and brought up on hard and bouncy tracks with lots of grass, were reeling at 44/5 against a second-string Pak pace attack. Pakistan had no breakneck speedsters when Boucher and Kemp rescued the South Africans, taking them beyond 200. But against the all-pace attack of South Africa, the Pakistanis had no chance. They were 27/6 at one stage, and were then bowled out for 80-odd. The ball kept moving all the time. The hapless batsmen had no chance on that brute of a wicket. Batting at Mohali on that greentop was as difficult as it was on the turner at Brabourne.

Smith, the winning captain, was delighted because it felt like home. The thing to note is that the losing Pakistan captain did not complain. It was only two days later that Rameez Raja, doing TV commentary now, complained about Indian 'hospitality' in dishing out a brute of a wicket to knock Pakistan out. It was a fast bowlers' paradise, and Barry Richards called it a good wicket.

Now, sirs, why and how is a spinners' paradise "sub-standard" and "unfit" for an international match, when a brute of a wicket helping fast bowlers is "good for cricket"?

I watched a Test match at the WACA in Perth, where the ball was exploding after pitching. The only boundary was a top-edged six that flew off the bat of Australian opener Mathew Elliot.

The great West Indian pair of Ambrose and Walsh finished the match in just over two days. Nobody complained. But at the Wankhede in Bombay, when the Indian spinners finished off the Australians in 2004, not only was the pitch condemned, there was a cry to blacklist the Wankhede!

Sirs, is it a colonial standard or an imperial reaction that labels a spinning pitch sub-standard and a fast, bouncy wicket a cricketing pitch?

First Published: Nov 03, 2006 23:06 IST