TV tigers growl in pitch battle

Times Media


TELEVISION, sometimes a questionable influence on sport, could yet come to the rescue of SA’s pitch imperfect test series in India.

If all three matches played had gone the distance, fans would have seen 15 days of cricket. Instead, they have had to make do with seven days – less than half the scheduled number.

Nothing could be done about rain robbing the match in Bangalore of four days’ play. But the loss of three days each in Mohali and Nagpur was self-inflicted by the preparation of pitches heavily skewed in favour of spin bowling.

Consequently, the contest between bat and ball has been severely compromised: after nine completed innings, no centuries and just four 50s have been scored while 89 wickets have fallen at an average of 18.43.

Spinners have taken 75 of those wickets and the seamers’ 14. Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin alone has 10 more scalps than all nine seamers combined.

And it seems India want another partisan pitch for the fourth test at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi starting on Thursday.

“Nothing wrong with (the Nagpur pitch),” India team director Ravi Shastri said yesterday. “I would hope the one in Delhi is absolutely the same – I have no qualms about it. To hell with the five days.”

India have already won the series, but it could be in their best interests to prepare a raging turner in Delhi.

Anything else would leave them open to charges of dishonesty for insisting that the surfaces in Mohali and Nagpur were nothing more than reflections of India’s natural conditions.

However, Star Sports would seem to hold a sharply opposite view. They have lost some 75 hours of broadcast time in the series – which has reportedly cost them the equivalent of R172.4-million in advertising revenue.

“This is bad for cricket and bad for us,” an unnamed network official told the Hindustan Times.

“Only quality, competitive cricket is our saviour, which is not the case in this series.”

What had been served up so far was “not in the interests of the game”.

These are strange days indeed, what with television suits – who have for years championed the one-day and Twenty20 game over the longer format – going in to bat for test cricket.

Whether Star will be able to put enough pressure on cricket officials to force a return to less extreme playing conditions in Delhi remains to be seen.

But the network have paid almost R8.3-billion for the rights to broadcast India’s matches from 2012 to 2018, and if they aren’t getting enough bang for their buck they are entitled to say so.

The SA squad removed themselves from all that at the weekend when they decamped to the Pench Tiger Reserve near Nagpur on a safari arranged by former SA captain Shaun Pollock, who is in India commentating on the series.

Tigers were indeed spotted, as evidenced by the social media postings of Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott.

“Dead eye Dale spotted Mr Tiger hiding in the bush,” Steyn captioned one of his photographs. “He kindly decided to take a stroll in front of us for 15 minutes, such a beautiful beast!”

SA are due to arrive in Delhi on Monday. They will hope to encounter a pitch of a different stripe on Thursday.


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