Sport Cricket Why it is time for Test cricket to finally fix its major problem

Why it is time for Test cricket to finally fix its major problem

Steve O'Keefe stunned India with 12 wickets. But could he have done it on a decent pitch? Photo: Getty
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Australia’s first Test win in India was surprising, memorable and utterly comprehensive.

But completely lost in the aftermath was the fact the Test never should have been played on a disgraceful Pune pitch.

Important questions about the match, and Test cricket in general, have been shelved in the back-slapping.

For starters, how could any competent curator offer up a raging turner on the first day of a Test series?

Alarm bells were ringing when Shane Warne, admittedly no stranger to hyperbole, dubbed it an “eighth-day wicket” from the start.

Unlike his criticism of spinner Steve O’Keefe, Warne was on the mark with this one.

The Pune curator was either incompetent or instructed to produce an unfair pitch, which he did, and it meant the toss was crucial.

Australia won it, and the match, largely thanks to their first-innings 260 before the wicket completely disintegrated.

Our unheralded spinners, O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon, took 17 of India’s 20 wickets between them, leading to a major post-mortem on the sub-continent.

Everyone from the curator, ground staff, India’s batsmen and the increasing prevalence of Twenty20 cricket has been in the firing line.

But here’s the thing.

Just because India’s approach – based on the fact they thought their spinners would out-perform Australia’s and therefore lead them to an easy win – backfired, does not mean it is acceptable.

If wickets are prepared to stack the odds so much against touring sides, then Test cricket’s days are numbered.

Twenty20 matches may be hit-and-giggle affairs and one-day internationals, bar the World Cup, struggle for relevance, but at least they provide level playing fields for two teams – not one.

A format that can last five days, in these times of instant gratification, needs to be as competitive and appealing as possible.

It cannot be blatantly unfair to touring sides.

The stats

Of course, India have form in producing doctored pitches.

And it normally works for them. Before last week’s capitulation, they had not lost a home Test since 2012.

In 2013, India thrashed Australia 4-0 on dust-bowl turners that were not Test standard, despite losing the toss on each occasion.

Ravi Ashwin captured 28 wickets against England late last year.
Ravi Ashwin captured 28 wickets against England late last year. Photo: Getty

Just before Christmas last year, India beat England 4-0 in a five-Test series, with India spinners Ravi Ashwin (28 wickets) and Ravinder Jadeja (26 wickets) making the most of wickets that turned square.

India are not the only offenders.

Just about every nation is guilty of doctoring pitches to suit their players.

It’s why sides so rarely win away from home.

And it’s why the Test cricket rankings change more than the Melbourne weather.

In 2013, in a run of 21 Tests, just one was won by the away side.

Australia and India’s away records in recent years are very poor, with South Africa seemingly the only exception.

The solution

So, if every nation doctors pitches and the balance of Test cricket is so unfairly weighted towards home teams, how does it change?

The appointment of independent curators.

Ex-Australia quick Rodney Hogg said it would be tough to organise.

“I think it would be too hard to do. I can’t see the ICC sending a curator out to Dubai or somewhere similar for four weeks before a Test,” he told The New Daily.

“I just think it is bad when we see sub-standard pitches in Test cricket.”

Hogg is right – it would be logistically difficult. But it is not impossible.

In 1994, independent umpires were appointed to officiate in Tests.

They have done much to rid the game of accusations of hometown bias from visiting teams.

It is now time to extend this to include curators. Test cricket needs it.

Dr Tom Heenan teaches sports studies at Monash University.

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