Colin E. H. Croft
Whichever team; defending 2015 champions Trinidad & Tobago Red Force or always determined opponents Barbados Pride; would have won yesterday’s WICB-NAGICO Super-50 2016 final, that team would have had to overcome two “demons” to be victorious.
Obviously, they must have played better than their opponents to win, but winning also meant that they had overcome underfoot uncertainties, as pitches prepared for the final stages had been spongy and conducive to spin, hardly situations to produce attractive batting and high run scoring.
Semi-final No. 1; Guyana Jaguars v Red Force; was a difficult game for both teams. Batsmen struggled to come to terms with the slow, almost tennis-ball bounce of the pitch.
Only batsmen with acuity for feet movements, ala T&T’s Darren Bravo, or with excellent timing and hitting, like Guyana’s Anthony Bramble, had abilities to negotiate such pitches. Batting first, T&T still could not come close to 300!
In semi-final No. 2, Windward Islands Volcanoes players, like the Jaguars, appeared jet-lagged from the short trip from St Kitts to T&T, so laboured were movements.
For Volcanoes not to have made 200 batting first was extraordinarily disappointing, as that 2nd semi-final pitch, while still not great, was good enough for at least 230, and was definitely an improvement on the pitch used for semi-final No. 1.
Even with Dwayne Smith’s dubious LBW off Mervyn Matthew’s first delivery, batting was always relatively easier for Pride, and especially Kraigg Brathwaite, who looked in good touch.
Recently, West Indies captain Jason Holder lamented that most pitches in the Caribbean have not been conducive to big scores. But why is that so nowadays?
West Indies Cricket Board has a regional pitch consultant who, in the past, has helped to produce good pitches in other parts of the Caribbean. So why is it so difficult to do so regularly at QPO?
Sitting with another former WI fast bowler Mervyn Dillon for T&T v Guyana, we came to the same conclusion that the pitch for semi-final No. 1 was quite poor for such an important one-day game. Remember, performances in this tournament were being used as yardsticks for possible selectees for ICC World T-20 2016 in March.
Merve made a telling observation, one that I agree with, and know of, from playing club cricket in T&T back in 1975 and while playing for WI in international games at QPO in 1970’s and 1980’s.
“Crofty, I played my club cricket in T&T right here at Queen’s Park Oval. Every weekend, depending on the opposition, we literally ordered pitch conditions to suit which style we wanted. Always, without exception, we had what we asked for, might it have been a fast bouncy pitch, or one that spun or turned, depending on our bowling strengths at the time. So how come that cannot be so nowadays? These pitches are just not good enough for this competition.”
In the distant past, Sabina Park, in Jamaica, had been mostly hard, glossy, fast and bouncy, very occasionally inconsistent. We sometimes thought that we had actually been bowling on glass, those pitches being so good for both runs and wickets.
Kensington Oval in Barbados was probably the best suited for even cricket. Pitches there were normally fast and bouncy too, but very consistent, so that batsmen could play true strokes and get right rewards for their efforts, while wickets were always on the offing.
Bourda Oval in Guyana was not fast but was ‘firm’. If a good quick bowler put his back into proceedings, he could get wickets. Overall, though, Bourda was almost always the best suited pitch for batsmen, for trueness of bounce there could only very seldom have been faulted.
From 1981, Antigua Recreation Ground’s proper bounce and consistent pace allowed for great cricket and many records. Now used mostly for soccer, that venerable ground had produced excellent international cricket over time.
QPO back then was the enigma too. Batting first was sometimes a lottery, as WI opener Roy Fredericks found out v India in 1971. His first ball from medium-trundler Syed Abid Ali never rose more than an inch off the ground – proverbial ‘shooter’ – which uprooted “Freddo’s” off stump. WI lost. Yet, in 1981, WI, batting first v England, won after making over 400 runs!
QPO used to be slick early on any first day of a Test too, but with so many confusing weather patterns, and starts of 50-overs games slated for mid-afternoons, any preparation moisture in the square would have been absorbed or would have evaporated long before play started.
Yet one should expect that, with modern technology and soil engineering skills, pitches at QPO should still have been much better than those produced for this WICB-NAGICO 2016 tournament.
Many might argue that batsmen of all opposing teams have to endure the same underfoot conditions. That might be so, but batting confidence need not be undermined by poor pitches.
Thus, special efforts should be made by WICB to ensure that all pitches will be in the best shape possible for our two next international hosting duties; India v WI Test series and that tri-series featuring Australia, South Africa and WI. Those pitches must simply be excellent! Enjoy!
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