Pitch scienticians

A look at pitch chat.

We've had two Tests of pitch chat.

Pitch talk is the worst, it's boring, and almost no one involved actually knows anything about curating a pitch. Most of it is lazy, ill-informed and reactionary. So it's like the rest of cricket, but with added horticulture.

I am probably one of the few people in cricket who actually studied horticulture. Before becoming a writer, I wanted to a curator. I studied plants and even organised a work experience placement with the MCG. But I cancelled it, as it turned out I hated gardening.

As an analyst, I see having a relationship with curators as part of my job. It's always worth chatting to them on practice days to learn more about wicket preparation.

So I would say that I know more than most people about pitches, and it's important to note that I still know pretty much nothing. I come from a powerful position of ignorance; I know about red soil and black soil in India. They are different. According to locals, the Highveld pitches usually play up more when it is hot rather than overcast. And people obsess over the colour of wickets when on many occasions, it has little to do with anything.

In Melbourne, I played my cricket for Coburg, and our second ground had a green pitch. Game after game teams would turn up and send us in, and we'd make huge runs as the ball barely ever seamed. It's why I don't write about the pitch much beforehand (unless I'm using it as a punchline because I'm too lazy to think of something better).

We talk so much about pitches in cricket because on the days between games, there is a need to make content. And the pitch is something you can talk about easily without actually spending hours around the nets to see what is really going on. The other is that it does play a huge part in the result. Like we all get that. But it's that combination that makes almost everything said about a surface pointless and endless.

This pitch at Motera has already had more opinions than it's had first class balls in the last few years. You can see why I think the last Test finished in two days in this video, and while the pitch clearly played a part, so did a bunch of other things.

But so few people ever look into it. How many cricket articles ever produce much beyond dusty spins, grassy seams. It's rare that the press pack interviews curators.They should do press conferences before the game and probably after. Because it would stop so much of the bullshit that is said.

One of my favourite stories is from India and Australia's famed series in 07/08. The narrative was the WACA was back to its old fire after being very dull and surprisingly slow over the last few years. They had got in some new wickets, and it was on them that Shaun Tait had been brutally fast. So Australia were going to pick an all pace attack and bomb India.

They picked that attack, but the pitch used was one of the older slower ones. And India's more accurate and skilful bowlers did well; Australia's battery of pace struggled. That seemed like a mistake of the selectors, but also the media. A press conference before the game and he would have dampened the pace talk down.

As a team analyst, pitches have caused me so many problems. There was a time when our team was playing on the same surface for three straight games. The first two games were high scoring, but I assumed the next one would not be as it was a thrice used surface. I went and talked to the curator. He told me it would play the exact same way again. I then asked the local players, and they backed him up. So I passed all this information on to the team. They attacked, and we didn't make a hundred.

I had done the research, spoken to the experts, and it didn't matter. Thousands of living beings make up a pitch. And some pitches do the same thing repeatedly for a generation. But mostly, it's slightly better than random trying to work out what a surface will do.

And most of us do this as non-experts. Even the ICC conditions for a pitch are basic and unscientific. They remind me of when we use to let an umpire at square leg decide someone's future by calling no balls on supposed illegal actions. I think we can look at these things in a more detailed way.

But what fun is that when it's easier to argue about it online.

If you have time, this is a really good chat about helmets and stuff.