The pitch for the first Test between Pakistan and Australia has come under heavy criticism, after only 14 wickets fell over five days of play.
The Rawalpindi track is under scrutiny and could earn either a ‘Below Average’ or “Poor” rating from the ICC match referee after Pakistan and Australia played out one of the dullest draws this century. Pakistan managed 476-4d in their first innings, and Australia were all out for 459 before the hosts batted again and made 252 for no loss in their second innings. Three batters, Imam-ul-Haq (twice), Abdullah Shafique and Azhar Ali got to their respective centuries, with Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne scoring 97 and 90 for the tourists.
While Steve Smith called the wicket “benign”, Pat Cummins stated that there was “an effort to nullify [Australia’s] pace bowling.” All eyes now turn to Ranjan Madugalle the match referee, who will submit an official report on the pitch. Madugalle famously gave the drop-in pitch in Melbourne that was used for the 2017 Ashes Test a “Poor” rating after only 24 wickets had fallen over the course of five days.
According to ICC’s Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process, which has been effective since January 2018, “The objective of a Test pitch shall be to allow all the individual skills of the game to be demonstrated by the players at various stages of the match. If anything, the balance of the contest between bat and ball in a Test match should slightly favour the bowling team” and “a pitch should be expected to deteriorate as the match progresses, and as a consequence, the bounce could become more inconsistent, and the ball could deviate more (seam and spin) off the wearing surface.”
A pitch can be termed “poor” if it “does not allow an even contest between bat and ball, either by favouring the batters too much, and not giving the bowlers (seam and spin) from either team sufficient opportunity to take wickets, or by favouring the bowlers too much (seam or spin), and not giving the batters from either team the opportunity to make runs.”
If any of the following criteria apply, a pitch may be rated “poor”:
- The pitch offers excessive seam movement at any stage of the match
- The pitch displays excessive unevenness of bounce for any bowler at any stage of the match
- The pitch offers excessive assistance to spin bowlers, especially early in the match
- The pitch displays little or no seam movement or turn at any stage in the match together with no significant bounce or carry, thereby depriving the bowlers of a fair contest between bat and ball
- The pitch displays excessive moisture making its playing characteristics unpredictable, or excessive dryness leading to the surface to deteriorate.
The batting average in the Rawalpindi game was 84.78 with the bowling average 88.84, the 14th highest in any Test match in history. With bowlers only picking up 13 wickets (Babar Azam was run out in the first innings) over five nearly full days of play.
Though Nauman Ali did pick up six wickets in Australia’s second innings, it was after toiling for over 38 overs and was partially the result of the perfect execution of a perfect leg-side line plan rather than because of any assistance from the wicket. Nauman later acknowledged that the wicket did not play true to its nature. “Normally in ‘Pindi’ the pitch is different due to weather and the pitch is not very dry and always helps the batsmen.”
Should Madugalle term the wicket “Poor”, the ground will be given three demerit points. If a venue accumulates five demerit points over five years, it will be suspended from hosting international matches for one year. Another option for Madugalle, is to give the venue a ‘Below Average’ rating that would incur a solitary demerit point.
The only instance where a pitch has been deemed “Poor” since the introduction of the new guidelines was in 2018 when the Wanderers Test between India and South Africa had uneven bounce and pace, which proved to be hazardous for the batters. Here is the recent list of pitch ratings.