Toss is proving to be a big factor and stroke-making in the first innings is turning out to be a problem. Extra watering of the pitches has made things a tad lopsided.
Numbers don’t lie. In 15 Super 12 games at the T20 World Cup so far, only three times have teams batting first secured victories – Afghanistan against Scotland and Namibia, and West Indies versus Bangladesh. Also, just twice have teams batting first gone beyond 160 (usually a par score in a T20 game) – Bangladesh posting 171/4 against Sri Lanka and still losing, and Afghanistan blazing to 190/4 against Scotland in their 130-run thumping.
Aberrations apart, a clear pattern has emerged – win the toss, bowl and bag two points. Toss is proving to be a big factor and stroke-making in the first innings is turning out to be a problem. Extra watering of the pitches has made things a tad lopsided.
The three venues in the United Arab Emirates – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – hosted 31 matches in the second phase of the Indian Premier League within a month. The T20 World Cup came close on its heels. The Indian Express understands that the pitches have been watered heavily to prolong their lives. Extra watering means extra moisture underneath the top soil, which is holding up the surfaces, making stroke-play difficult. From the top, the pitches look dry enough, but looks can be deceptive.
The bounce and carry of a pitch come from the compaction of the soil, about four inches underneath the top layer. The drier and harder the area, the livelier is the bounce, the ball coming quicker on to the bat, allowing batsmen to hit through the line. But pitch preparation in the desert comes with a rider: heat wreaking havoc. Usually in India, when there’s no rain around, about three weeks are required to achieve the required compaction. In the UAE though, extra watering is required to neutralise the heat factor, especially in a long tournament. Else, the soil underneath the top layer will become bone dry and the topsoil will crack.
It’s actually a double-edged sword. While the extreme dryness of the surfaces has been averted, the additional water hasn’t allowed the soil to achieve the required compaction fully. Evening dew is making matters more complicated for teams bowling second. Atmospheric conditions can’t be neutered after a point, but maybe, preparations of pitches need to strike a balance between moisture and aridity.
Virat Kohli was asked about the toss factor ahead of India’s game against New Zealand. “It will continue to be a big factor. That’s the nature of this tournament,” he said.
Rising above conditions
The teams with an all-win record so far in the tournament – Pakistan and England – had the advantage of batting second in all their matches. With moisture upfront, their fast bowlers got purchase, be it Shaheen Shah Afridi against India or Chris Woakes against Australia. After a resounding victory against their old rivals, England captain Eoin Morgan was asked if he would like to win a game batting first.
“We have spoken about it, what might change, if anything. The thing that I liked about the way that we played today was conditions didn’t change, dew didn’t come in,” Morgan replied.
His Australian counterpart Aaron Finch had a different take on the conditions. “Yeah, the dew came in a little bit towards the end there, but I don’t think it would have made a huge amount of difference,” he said at the post-match press conference.
Finch also spoke about the challenges of batting first. “…once the lights take effect, even when there hasn’t been dew, it feels like the wicket is skidding on a little bit more,” he said, adding: “I think teams have probably been a little bit more cautious in the first six overs when they bat first to try and get through the back end of the innings, but yeah, batting second seems to have been the way to go. The toss has been really important in this tournament so far.”
Strong teams can counter this lop-sidedness by backing their strengths. Sides that boast quality players top-down can overcome conditions. Morgan spoke about not changing England’s heavy metal approach even if they bat first, and Kohli asserted that the players need to rise to the challenge. “Either you can bank too much on the toss or you can challenge yourself as a team to say, okay, even if we lose the toss, we are good enough to bowl or bat in any conditions.”
Weaker teams, though, face a greater degree of difficulty, being dependent on just one or two players. This paper also understands that the curator has been asked to prepare the best possible pitch for the conditions, while there’s an optimism that the surfaces will improve towards the back-end of the tournament.
Something similar happened in the IPL also. The slow going in the majority of league fixtures was followed by a high-scoring final.
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