The important role of the cricket pitch

I am sure that all the cricket fans out there (yes, both of you) have been waiting for another post about his game.

One of the key things that distinguishes cricket from baseball is that after the bowler releases the ball, it bounces on the ground before it reaches the batter. This has enormous consequences because how the ‘pitch’ (which is how cricket aficionados refer to the central playing area between the wickets) is prepared can greatly affect the motion of the ball after hitting the ground. Pitches that result in the ball bouncing a lot and/or unpredictably or allows the ball to change direction sharply after bouncing makes life harder for the batters and easier for the bowlers. Conversely, pitches where the ball bounces a predictable low height and does not produce much turn are easier for the batters.

Since international Test matches last for five days, the state of the pitch can change over that time due to wear and tear, with it favoring certain types of bowlers at different times and with conditions such as rain or humidity also playing a role. If the pitch starts out too dry, it can later develop cracks and a ball that hits a crack can keep very low, rise sharply, or change direction dramatically, making it almost unplayable. So you need to prepare a pitch that wears well and does not deteriorate too much over five days. A ‘normal’ pitch (if there is such a thing) usually shows some ‘life’ (i.e., speed and bounce that helps fast bowlers) at the very beginning, becomes easier to bat on later on and, in the last two days tends to provide more help for the spin bowlers.

Since the country hosting the match is in charge of preparing the pitch, it can prepare ones that favor the skills of the home team. If they have good fast bowlers, they can produce pitches that favor them. If they have good spin bowlers, they can produce pitches where the ball turns a lot, and so on. If they have a poor bowling side and the opponents a good one, they can prepare ‘dead’ pitches that provide no help at all for the bowlers. But there are limits to this kind of manipulation. If the pitches produced are too extreme, the home country can face censure from international monitors.

It has been speculated that greater skill in pitch preparation has been one of the factors that has contributed in recent years to greater home field advantage in Test cricket, with the seven top teams losing twice as many games as they win when playing away over the last ten years. Of the top teams, only South Africa has won more games than they lost when playing away.

Sometimes a poor pitch that benefits neither side is produced by what seems like just incompetence by the grounds keeping staff. In 1998, a Test match between England and the West Indies played in Jamaica was called off less than an hour after it began because the pitch was so bad that there was real risk of injury to batters from the highly erratic movement of the ball. This had never happened before and as far as I am aware it has never happened again. You can see how that poor pitch played.

Here is a video that shows how much care, time, and work goes into preparing a cricket pitch that will provide a good balance between bat and ball.

Part 1

Part 2


  1. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    So disappointed. I clicked through and expected a discussion of cricket pitches for mating and recognition when multiple species and subspecies inhabit overlapping habitats. Instead, a discussion of a ‘sport’.

    Seriously, though, condition of a playing field is very important. In high school, we went on a road trip to a school about 2 hours away. Which is a long trip in a school bus with all of the football equipment. On a Thursday, knowing that we had school the next day and I knew that I would be taking another long bus trip, to the same school, with the band (I was in junior varsity football — the band (and the crowd) only shows up for varsity games).

    At this school, for some reason, the football field was dished. It was about a foot lower in the center than at the sidelines. It also had almost no grass — they spray painted the lines on the dirt. And it rained. And rained. And rained. And then we drove, through the rain, to the stadium. And midway through the first quarter (we, here in the states, for all but one of our games, actually use something called a ‘clock’ to keep time and make sure that our games don’t last five freaking days (the one that doesn’t use the clock is limited to 9 innings, with three outs per side per inning (unless it is tied after 9 innings, in which case we play more (but the average pro game lasts only 3 hours 5 minutes)))) they called us off the field for an officials time out. And the officials and the coaches met in the middle of the field. Standing in 7 inches of water. And called the game because of the possibility of someone drowning at the bottom of a pile.

    So we rode home. And it rained. And it stopped about when we got home.

    The next day, we went to the same stadium (this time I was with the band (six school buses of band)). We did wear our non-uniform (rather than the red, white and blue wool (yes, wool, in Maryland, even in September) we wore blue jeans, a school jacket, and our foot-high shakos). They held the game. Can’t cancel a varsity game — those are important! And they spray painted the lines on the mud. And we marched in the mud. And by the end of the game, it was really hard to tell who was on which team, or even which number they were wearing.

    So, yeah, playing fields are important.

    Don’t believe me? Think of Waterloo!

  2. blf says

    One of the quirks of USAian baseball is that, broadly speaking, whilst the dimensions of the infield are precisely specified, those of the outfield are not. This is partly due to tradition / history, and partly to simply accommodate the various existing varied outfield shapes and sizes.

    Some years ago, a minor league team took advantage of this — specifically that nothing said the size / shape couldn’t be changed during a game — and implemented a movable fence. When the home team was batting, the fence was moved in (hence making home runs easier), but when the visiting was batting, the fence was moved out (longer distance, so harder to hit home runs).

    The baseball powers-that-be decided that there was nothing wrong with a movable fence, only with moving it during a game. They ruled the fence could be moved to whatever position the home team decided before a game (consistent within the rules), but then had to stay put for the game. It could be moved before another game.

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