Covering pitches has helped protect players and the game itself!

England-West Indies 1998 Test in Kingston saw many injures to batsmen due to poorly-prepared pitch © Getty Images


The nature of the 22-yard pitch has a great bearing on any cricket match. In the good old days, pitches were left uncovered which meant the track was exposed to nature.


Traditionalists like former England captain Ray Illingworth felt uncovered pitches produced better batsmen and bowlers. But at times such pitches deteriorated from day one of a Test match and were potentially dangerous for batsmen, especially in an era where there were no helmets. But slowly uncovered pitches were phased out of the game with England being one of the first countries to have matches being played on covered tracks from the 1960s.


Despite the covered pitches in modern era, there have been few instances where the pitches have proved to be fatal. The 1998 Test match between England and West Indies at the Sabina Park in Kingston is one such instance. The pitch was up and down in nature and too dangerous for a batsman to play.  To add to England’s misery who were batting first and facing the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh that day, the ball either dipped down or flew past batsman’s neck. It was a Test match to forget for the English batsman who were either injured or dismissed early to leave England struggling at 17 runs for loss of three wickets.


However within an hour of the start of England’s batting, the match was abandoned by the umpires due to poor playing conditions. Till this notorious Test, in January 1998, a Test match was never called off after just 10 overs and one ball were bowled.


The International Cricket Council (ICC) today has provided for enough laws that ensure complete protection of playing conditions. For example Law 11 of the Laws of cricket suggests that the turf shall not be covered during a match.


Pitches are generally covered at night to protect it from moisture that can affect the outcome of a game. If covers are used during the day due to threatening rains, they are removed as soon as the weather clears for the play to be resumed. Machines like water hog are permitted to be operated for the removal of excessive moisture from the pitch.


Pitches are the most important area on a cricket field, not only strategically but also from a batsman’s protection point of view, and thus need to be carefully looked after and developed in the best interest of the game.