Monday 16 September 2019

Thirties are the new 40 for batsmen struggling in a bowler's world


Steve Harmison. Photo: Sportsfile
Steve Harmison. Photo: Sportsfile

Tim Wigmore

Chief executive pitches, Steve Harmison called them.

"There's rarely a contest between bat and ball any more," he lamented in 2010. "I don't want to see pitches where you can't get bouncers above waist height."

Harmison, he was well aware, stood to be called "whingeing". But he had a point. In 2010, an average of 36 runs were scored for every Test wicket that fell. This average ticked down a little in the following years, but the early 2010s remained halcyon days for Test batting.

No longer. The age of chief executives' wickets is dead. Now bowlers, again, are kings. Last year, the average number of runs per wicket was 27 - the lowest for 61 years.

This year, wickets are falling every 52 balls - more frequently than at any time since 1911.

The world over, pitches have been transformed from those Harmison once railed against. Groundsmen are now generally offering either "grassier surfaces", helping seamers, or "drier pitches that spin more," says Ian Bishop, a former West Indies pace bowler, now a commentator.

The upshot is "harvesting season for bowlers", especially as many current Test batsmen developed when pitches were more placid, and they were "unaccustomed to the moving, bouncing at pace, or spinning ball".

The International Cricket Council now looks more favourably on pitches that offer bowlers some approval.

It may be coincidental but, for home boards in most series - the Ashes is an exception - Tests that last four days are better financially than ones that finish in five.

Home advantage is encouraging teams to prepare wickets that offer abundant assistance to either seam or swing, depending on the team's strength.

And market forces are incentivising young players to devote more attention to the shorter versions of the game.

The number of elite bowlers, especially quicks, around today may not be sustained. But lower scores reflect wider and profound changes in the game.

Test cricket's age of dominant bowlers shows no sign of abating.

So it is time for Test norms to be recalibrated. Perhaps, for Test batsmen, an average in the low thirties should be considered the new 40. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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