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.