On June 25, 1983, when the Indian team arrived at the Lord’s for the final against a world-beating West Indies, they caught a glimpse of the pitch and it didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the camp. It was green-top and the Indian top-order knew it was going to be difficult.
What happened after that is part of Indian cricket folklore, but Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who top scored with 38 in that final as India managed 183, recalls the difficult conditions that he had to negotiate on that murky morning. “Oh that was some pitch, it’s another matter that I didn’t bother looking at it too much and backed my instincts. If I were to start thinking how I would play Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner on that pitch, it might have been too much of a struggle for me,” Srikkanth told TOI, talking about the nature of pitches that used to be on offer in those days.
Even in the game at Tunbridge Wells where Kapil Dev hit 175 after India were down 17/5 against Zimbabwe, the pitch was difficult. It was Kapil’s brilliance that won the game. The medium-pacers with a red ball were virtually unplayable on a track that was difficult to identify from the outfield. “It was cold, the ball was moving. It looked like we would be bowled out for 70 or 80,” Sunil Gavaskar recalled later in an interview.
But then, that was 36 years ago. Last Saturday, England smashed 373 against Pakistan in Southampton (venue of India’s opener against South Africa), and given the present batting strength of 1992 champions, one assumed the hosts would walk away with the match. But Pakistan – with the likes of Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam and Asif Ali – came desperately close to chasing it down. The 734 runs scored on the day were a fair indication of what we should be expecting during the World Cup.
The trend, though, is not exactly new — run deluge in ODIs in England has become a norm for four years now. From 1971 to 2015, teams crossed 300 in the country only 21 times. But since 2015, it’s been a staggering 29 times, with England alone doing it 22 times.
Those 55-over Texaco Trophy days seem lost in time, when the batsmen had to grind for every run in the first hour. Yes, there was a Natwest Trophy final in 2002 when both teams crossed 300, but that was an exception. In the recent standardization drive by ICC, all that has gone out of the window. Fans who revel in T20s, want to see run mountains; cricket excitement has been reduced to the number of sixes hit. It is also common knowledge that with the growing popularity of T20s, ODI as a format is struggling to stay afloat.
“This wasn’t the case when we started playing, but now it’s all about runs. People love watching tall scores and it’s not easy for the bowlers,” former India offspinner Harbhajan Singh said.
While the groundsmen are producing batting beauties, the weather has played a crucial part in batsmen being so dominant in the first half of English summers. Following the effect of global warming, English summers have become hotter with the temperature hovering in the early 30s in June.
“I remember our match against England (on May 29) in Birmingham in the 1999 World Cup. It was 7-8 degrees, there was rain and we were shivering. The match went on for two days due to inclement weather and it was a huge struggle for batsmen,” said former India opener S Ramesh.
The fact that the balls used — white Kookaburra — have very low seams don’t help the bowlers’ cause. The seam flattens out within the first few overs. With hardly any moisture on the pitch, the bowlers struggle to get lateral movement. And with not much wear and tear either, the spinners too find it difficult. Not great news for India, who are banking a lot on their wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
“I don’t agree that spinners won’t get help. I have played for Surrey and I know spinners will come into play, provided they know their craft. Ravindra Jadeja can be very effective at grounds like The Oval or Rose Bowl,” Harbhajan said.
But given the amount of ODIs England have played at home in the last four years, they should be in the best position to make the most of the conditions.
India, though, have an ace up their sleeve — Jasprit Bumrah. Sachin Tendulkar rates him as “the best paceman in the world” and the 25-year-old has the ability to take conditions out of the equation. Bumrah doesn’t need a pitch to conjure his magic.
“Every team has good batsmen, but everybody doesn’t have a Bumrah… If he doesn’t break down, we have reasons to believe,” Harbhajan said.
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