Jack Fairs and Vithushan Ehantharajah take a look at the scrapes, gouges and divots that have been etched into the pitch and, subsequently, our hearts and minds.
First published in 2014
10. No Harmy no foul
It’s rare to see Ricky Ponting look rushed when playing a pull stroke but that’s what a Steve Harmison heat-seeker did to the Aussie captain at Lord’s in the 2005 Ashes. Back before the radar broke, the Durham destroyer charged in and released the kind of steeply rising short ball that went on to have Pakistan reaching for their marble slabs in 2006. As Ponting swivelled to play the pull shot, the ball cannoned into the side of his helmet, leaving him with a deep cut on his cheek that could have been the result of mafia movie-style torture.
9. Vandals stop play
There were expressions of horror at Headingley as the covers were pulled back on the final day’s play of the third Ashes Test in 1975. With the game delicately poised, and Australia needing 225 runs to win with seven wickets remaining, play had to be abandoned after the pitch was vandalised. Overnight protesters against the imprisonment of the armed robber George Davis evaded the solitary police watchman to dig up the wicket with knives before pouring a gallon of oil onto the surface. As it happened, it rained all day anyway and play would have been abandoned regardless.
8. Afridi spikes pitch
While the rest of the population of the Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad were reacting to the explosion of what turned out to be a gas canister, the not-so-sneaky Shahid Afridi went to work. In the second Pakistan v England Test in 2005, Afridi wandered onto the wicket to select his favourite line and length to bowl and, to celebrate, did a quick swivel to mark the spot with his spikes. Unfortunately for Afridi, almost everyone who mattered saw his little act of pitch preparation, resulting in a ban lasting one Test match and two ODIs.
7. Afridi bites back
Not blessed with subtlety, or any discernible respect for the laws of the game, Shahid Afridi was found making indentations of a different kind during the fifth ODI between Pakistan and Australia at Perth in 2010. Captain Afridi, taking the ball from the umpire, strolled off, ball in hand, and before long had it in his mouth, getting his teeth well and truly stuck into it. Again the umpires noticed, and again Afridi received an insubstantial ban; two T20s this time.
6. Proper balls
Back in 1992, before the Afridi era, ball tampering was a much more cloak-and-dagger ball affair. With England holding an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Test series against Pakistan and chasing 205 to win the Lord’s Test, umpires decided that the cover of the ball had been slit and required replacing. However, not wishing to off end Pakistan with allegations of ball tampering, the old ball was placed under lock and key and was never to be seen again. If you can’t see the tampered ball, then no ball tampering ever happened. Sound logic indeed.
5. Jamaica’s dodgy deck
There can’t have been many English players looking particularly thrilled when Michael Atherton elected to bat on a Sabina Park pitch boasting both vast cracks and awkward grassy patches. It looked as though the West Indies were bowling with a reaction ball as they reduced England to 9-3 with a lethal combination of chin and shin music. With Alec Stewart fending away most of these missiles with his gloves and then playing forward to a ball that bounced over the wicketkeeper’s head, Atherton was called onto the pitch and, after a discussion with the umpires, the game was abandoned.
4. Pitch Badgering
At the beginning of the 2013 season, Rickmansworth Cricket Club, one of the oldest clubs in the country, had to postpone all of its games in April and May after badgers tore into the outfield, rendering it unplayable. In the club’s 226-year history, badgers had not once impinged on play but it seems they were attracted to the ground by larvae in the turf that festered there in the aftermath of a wet off-season. Worse still for the Hertfordshire club was that their adjacent second pitch had also been affected by moles. What comes after pestilence?
3. Hindu militants
On the eve of Pakistan’s first Test tour of India since 1987, 25 supporters of Hindu leader Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena party broke into New Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, one of the venues for the 1999 Test series, and dug up the pitch. It wasn’t the first time that Thackeray and his “boys”, as he refers to them, vandalised Indian tracks to scupper fixtures with Pakistan. In 1991, Mumbai’s Wankhede pitch was sabotaged two days before Pakistan were due to play a one-day series in India. Pakistan cancelled that tour, and two more in 1993 and 1994, because of security fears. This time around, the head of the party’s Delhi unit even threatened physical assault. However, with minimal damage to the Delhi track and assurances from Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to protect the visitors, the series went ahead as planned.
2. WACA Cracker
Perhaps the most famous gouge, or rather, set of gouges in cricket. The WACA pitch, a 22-yard homage to the Grand Canyon, has long been the death of England – 13 Tests, one victory – and, for a moment, Tony Greig’s keys when he lost them down there during a pitch report. With Perth prone to heatwaves – it’s not the coolest of places at the best of times – the pitch often splits, providing bowlers with misbehaving crevices to target, as batsmen fear for either their toes or their teeth. Day five of the third Ashes Test of the 2013/14 series saw Ryan Harris deliveries go askew at nearly right angles, while Nathan Lyon pitched a ball on middle, only for it dart to leg-slip. Without the deviation, the ball would have passed the batsmen on the off-side, more than two metres away from where it ended up.
1. Chanders marks his territory
Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in contemporary cricket. When Shiv Chanderpaul does eventually call time on a long and prosperous career – at least for him personally – most will have the abiding image of him, front-on, tip-toeing across his stumps. But for others it will be of him crouched, intricately placing the flat end of the bail into the earth – middle and leg, usually – before hammering down a marker. While it’s now a regular feature with Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo taking on the quirk – even Chanderpaul’s son, Khemraj – it will be forever Shiv’s in our eyes.
First published in 2014