A great deal has been said and written about the pitch prepared for the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India – but in the end the game only lasted 27 balls into the fifth day, with India winning by 137 runs. Is that a result-oriented pitch or what? Or is it as it was painted, unsuitable for a Test? I think not.
The Australian complaints were (and always are) that the pitch did not afford the faster bowlers any assistance. But then as former Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee pointed out during a lunch-time interview on day two, the MCG has always been a dead wicket. Who is expected to take wickets – the bowler or the pitch?
Lillee made the point that the pitch in Perth — where the second Test, which Australia won, was played — was the one which he had concerns about, since one ball would creep through, and then another, pitched on the same spot, would shoot past the batsman’s nose. That kind of pitch was unsafe, was his opinion. Unsurprisingly, his comments were not reported by the media which is quite jingoistic when it comes to cricket.
The main reason why Australia’s quicks failed to get any more than two wickets on the first day – when India, batting very cautiously, made 215 runs – was because they kept bowling outside the stumps most of the time.
A bowler who can land the ball in what is called the corridor of uncertainty — where the batsman is unsure whether the delivery will miss the off-stump — can afford to bowl that line because he makes the batsman play every time. And that means the batsman can be dismissed by being bowled, caught or hit-wicket.
Bowling any further outside the off-stump most of the time gives the batsman the option of not playing the ball. One has to be patient to do that and not get frustrated by the lack of runs – but then India showed that they are quite good at that, waiting for the occasional bad ball to push the score along.
The Australians’ emphasis appeared to be on keeping the runs down. Not on taking wickets. Hence they should be the last to grumble about a lack of assistance from the wicket – when you do not give yourself the best chance of getting a wicket, how can you expect to get one?
The Indian bowlers, on the other hand, offered the Australians more hittable balls. They bowled deliveries that had to be played more often than not. This meant that Australia scored faster. But as a result, the Indians got wickets much faster and this, in the end, won them the match.
There was nothing wrong with the MCG pitch at all. It was slow – as it has always been.