The first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka resulted in 1,533 runs and 11 wickets    AFP
The first Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka resulted in 1,533 runs in only 2.5 innings AFP

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka recently played a two-match Test series at Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur. While Lankans prevailed, courtesy a 0-1 scoreline, the first Test a tame draw was the talking point of the series. Now why would a tame draw hog maximum limelight? Well, a total of 1,533 runs (in 2.5 innings) were scored in the drawn series opener. On the other hand, only 24 wickets fell in the three-day-long encounter (at every 63.86 runs). It clearly exposes the groundsmen’s biasness in dishing out a flat-track; adding to the bowlers’ woes the nucleus of the longer format. (20 wickets win you Test matches).

ICC, rightly, came into picture. David Boon, of the Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees, said, “From day one, there was evidence of the ball breaking the pitch surface, which resulted in uneven bounce throughout the match, along with inconsistent turn, which was even excessive at times. This pitch produced a contest that was too heavily skewed in favour of the bowlers, and didn t give the batsmen a fair chance to display their skills.”

Explaining Boon’s report in layman term, the surface was so much in favour of batsmen that run-making was never ‘challenging’; thereby not giving them a fair chance to exhibit their skills. As a result, the Mirpur ground lost one demerit point to the ICC Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process. The demerit point remains valid for a rolling five-year period. If during this period, the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium reaches the threshold of five demerit points, it will be suspended from staging any international cricket for 12 months.

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Australia and New Zealand produced a high-scoring T20I in the recently-conluded Trans-Tasmanian series    Getty Images
Australia and New Zealand produced a high-scoring T20I in the recently-conluded Trans-Tasmanian series Getty Images

Two weeks later, New Zealand and Australia locked horns in the group stage encounter of the Trans-Tasmanian T20Is. The fifth encounter at Eden Park, Auckland was a run-fest. In 38.5 overs (233 balls), 488 runs were amassed along with 11 wickets. A wicket fell on every 44.36 runs. In addition, every ball leaked 2.09 runs. On the other hand, the match produced 65 boundaries (33 fours and 32 sixes). Further calculations provide that a boundary was scored on every 3.86 balls. There were three fifty-plus scores and a solitary hundred in the match. The lowest strike-rate (batsmen facing 10 balls or more) was 114.29 Mark Chapman’s 14-ball 16.

Let us shift our focus to the ones who faced the brunt of the pitch, i.e. bowlers. Among the ones who bowled their full quota of overs, Ish Sodhi was the least expensive (8.75). New Zealand’s Ben Wheeler became the 29th most expensive, worst figures by a New Zealander, bowler in T20s (3.1-0-61-0). In addition, he became the sixth most expensive bowler in international arena, despite not even completing his spell.

Needless to say, Eden Park one of the smallest grounds (in terms of size) hosting Tests was prepared as a belter. Why on earth would groundsmen work towards a flat-track that already possesses a square boundary of 51 meters? There was NO talk leave alone any action from ICC on the pitch condition post the high-scoring encounter. Why?

The myth, the norm…

The message, from ICC, is loud and clear. The rules and regulations, parameters for judging the pitch is certainly different depending on the format. The myth says Test cricket is all about gruelling contest between bat and ball. On the other hand, T20s are for batsmen taking the front gear, or humiliating bowlers, for entertainment and ensuring big money spinners. Does all this have to be at the expense of bowlers? Perhaps, a bowling machine would be a better option, isn’t it?

Contrary to the myth, T20s have unearth some specialist bowlers. The format is not only about Chris Gayle, Rohit Sharma, David Warner, AB de Villiers and many more. Some of the specialist bowlers are as follows: Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka), Sunil Narine (West Indies), Samuel Badree, (West Indies), Dwayne Bravo (West Indies), Andre Russell (West Indies), Andrew Tye (Australia), Brad Hogg (Australia), Adil Rashid (England), Jofra Archer (Sussex) Yuzvendra Chahal (India), Tymal Mills (England), Ish Sodhi (New Zealand), Tabriaz Shamsi (South Africa), Rashid Khan (Afghanistan) etc.

Note: Only two World T20I finals (2007 and 2016 respectively) have produced 150+ scores. This shows that bowlers, if used fairly, can successfully curtail the run-flow.

The counterargument, if any, provides that T20s have added viewership from all age groups. From children to aged ones, or women, have also taken a liking towards the sport. Nonetheless, despite knowing little about the game (not stereotyping here), the new audiences are eager to witness contests wherein the game is batsmen-friendly. This format is also used to market the game in zones like America and China. As a result, ICC often turns a blind eye to pitches offering considerable help to the stroke-makers in the shortest format.

Reality check for ICC

Is ICC’s obliviousness hampering the shortest format? Why is there a huge gap, in mindset, while preparing pitches for Tests and T20s? The answer lies with ICC. Do they continue sleeping on the run-filled luxury cushions or wake up to demands on maintaining balance?