The Rajkot game [previous post on the topic] moves Harsha Bhogle to philosophize on the nature of cricket as contest.
At the heart of cricket’s magic, the reason all of us are so enamoured by it, is the fact that every ball is a contest. The bowler conceives the challenge, sets his line, his length, his movement, the placement of fielders, and presents it to the batsman, who must then unravel it and respond.
And then there is another challenge. It is relentless and it must be that way. The moment the delivery of the ball to a batsman is no longer a challenge, the contest ceases. It is no longer cricket. Or maybe it would be to the same extent that boxing would remain a sport if each boxer is allowed three minutes at a punching bag and the winner determined by who hits the bag better.
And so it is imperative that we get the surface right. The vagaries of the surface, and therefore their role in the presentation of a challenge by the bowler to the batsman, lies at the heart of cricket: favouring the batsman a bit one day, then ensuring that he has to hop against the bounce or crouch to smother the turn the next day. It is the inherent mystery in the surface that defines the contest. And that is what cricket’s administrators have to protect. They must be obsessed by the need to retain the contest. Chocolates must have their cocoa, cricket must have its contest; neither exists otherwise.
And having said all that, Harsha goes on to suggest that maybe the job of leveling the playing field is too crucial to be left entirely to the ICC.
Maybe we can start, us in the media, by defining what a good pitch is; not one on which batsmen can score a lot of runs but one on which ball and bat have equal opportunity. Every time a curator says, “I have prepared a good wicket”, let us ask him what he really means.
Bowlers are not waiters, they should not have to serve deliveries on a platter at a batsman’s command. We have already produced monster bats and brought the boundary rope in so much that on some days it looks like we are playing in a small park. And increasingly we produce pitches like the one in Rajkot. Is it inconceivable that a day will come when a bowler is given a list of balls he can bowl, it is announced on a public address system, and then we all wait to see what the batsman does with it?
Hopefully that is a doomsday scenario, but it doesn’t reduce the great need for the cricket world to come together to ensure that every cricketing occasion is a contest between ball and bat. We must be obsessed by the need to maintain it.
Right — I’m off to finish work on India Abroad, and then head out for the weekend. One of the few remaining weekends in Mumbai for me, so hopefully much fun will ensue. See you guys back here on Monday; be well meantimes.