Cricket pitches: An easy guide on why they behave like they do
A little bit of sporting history is being made this summer, with the first day/night cricket test match ever to be played in England taking place at Edgbaston in Birmingham from 17-21 August.
The England v West Indies match will be played between 2pm and 9pm, not the usual time of 11am to 6pm.
It sparked a discussion here about how it might affect the wicket and how it plays over the full five days. And that got us to thinking: What makes some pitches good for batting while others are more helpful to bowlers? And what makes for a seaming or a spinning pitch?
There are other factors at play as well as the pitch. How a wicket plays can also be affected by weather conditions and the state of the ball, ie if it’s a shiny new ball, or a ball that’s shiny and hard one side and worn on the other, or a 70-over ball that’s completely soft and worn.
And, of course, how the bowlers use their skills in manipulating the ball is the No 1 factor.
With these caveats in mind, and avoiding all of the scientific gobbledegook you can find elsewhere, here’s a simplified explanation of the key principles of how and why a cricket pitch behaves the way it does:
Pace: Why are some pitches traditionally good for fast bowlers?
Hard cricket pitches – such as the WACA ground in Perth, Australia - help the ball to fly off the surface at pace and with good bounce. But pitches with some green in them can also be fast as they allow the new ball to skid off the surface.
Seam & swing movement: How does the pitch contribute to it?
Cricket pitches with more grass on them assist swing bowling (ball moves in the air) and seam bowling (ball moves off the seam after pitching) by causing the ball to behave more erratically. It’s not just the extra grass that does this, but the moisture in the pitch.
Spin: What creates a spinning wicket?
Cricket pitches generally start to spin when they’ve become worn and dusty, so spinners tend to have an increasing role to play as the game progresses. A dry, worn pitch will develop cracks that the spin bowler can pitch the ball into. However, the ball will also spin on a pitch that has moisture in it and then starts to dry out.
Why is this even important? Here’s why …
Captains and coaches can select their team based on what the wicket is telling them. And the big question for any cricket captain who wins the toss is: Shall we bat first or bowl first? Over a 5-day test match, assessing the wicket at the outset can be fraught with peril. Their decision will also be influenced by the weather conditions. But, as a very basic rule of thumb, here’s what generally happens:
Dry conditions and dry wicket = bat first. It also means they get to bowl last on a potentially spinning wicket.
Overcast conditions and a pitch with some green and moisture in it = bowl first to get the most out of favourable conditions.
Clear as mud? Quite possibly. But reading a cricket pitch isn’t an exact science, far from it. It all adds the air of mystery and sheer unpredictability of the game. And we wouldn’t want it any other way!