Pitching it up: An Introduction

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Ben Roberts introduces a new feature which looks to investigate the peculiarities and nuances of specific pitches this Ashes

I took the opportunity to play cricket on turf pitches for three seasons while I studied at university. With the benefit of perfect hindsight it is clear that my understanding of the nuances and variations that turf pitches bring to the game was very low. My usually unspectacular medium pace, through the simple ability of keeping the seam straight, garnered me wickets on a few occasions. My batting ability, previously honed on consistent bouncing, matting covered, concrete pitches, was spectacularly underwhelming. In comparison to cricket played on matting, on turf I learned too late that it is vital that the batsman’s foot does get to the pitch of the ball, and not just the general vicinity.

Of course no two turf pitches are the same. In my own playing experience it appears that at least a couple of factors played there part in the contrast: Firstly, depending on the grade you were selected in (or dropped to) you may or may not experience covered pitches. This factor was only extenuated by the fickleness of Melbourne weather. As well, the level and recentness of investment that a club had put into its pitch preparation could directly influence the quality of wicket. (I would like to add that in my clubs experience, the amount of alcohol consumed by the curator prior to and during pitch preparation also played its part).

Famed cricket umpire Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird identified curators and umpires as being kindred spirits. Bird believed both have been assigned tasks that place them in no-win situation, whatever they do one team  will be happy and another not. To be a curator is to take on a unique vocation. People don’t experiment with being a curator, or test it out as a career, it appears to be a love affair for life, pure and simple. Curators become forever associated with their pitch and the pitch with its curator.

Reliant upon weather and different soil conditions, discussion of pitch conditions has more in common with fine wine than sport. But the pitch is an integral part of the sport of cricket, and a part that skilled players take advantage of in each and every match. As an integral part it has also been subject to rumour and allegation of ‘doctoring’ by unscrupulous teams seeking advantage. In not too few instances such allegation has crept into Ashes Test matches. Cricket historians and microbiologists alike often recall the ‘fusarium’ incident of the 1972 Ashes Test at Leeds.

Recognition of the importance of pitches to the game of cricket and cognisant of my own misadventure into the world of turf cricket I am inspired to learn more. This summers Ashes will be contested across the length and breadth of Australia on pitches that each have their own history and character, and potential to influence the result. I aim to investigate the peculiarities and nuances of specific pitches this summer.

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