In the game of cricket, the cricket pitch consists of the central strip of the cricket field between the wickets – 1 chain or 20.12 m (22 yards) long and 3.05 m (10 feet) wide. The surface is flat and normally covered with extremely short grass though this grass is soon removed by wear at the ends of the pitch.
In amateur matches in some parts of the world, artificial pitches are sometimes used. These can be a slab of concrete, overlaid with a coir mat, artificial turf, sometimes dirt is put over the coir mat to provide an authentic feeling pitch. Artificial pitches are rare in professional cricket, being used only when exhibition matches are played in regions where cricket is not a common sport.
The word wicket often occurs in reference to the pitch. Although technically incorrect according to the Laws of Cricket (Law 7 covers the pitch and Law 8 the wickets, distinguishing between them), cricket players, followers, and commentators persist in the usage, with context eliminating any possible ambiguity. Track is yet another synonym for pitch.
The rectangular central area of the cricket field – the space used for pitches – is known as the square. Cricket pitches are usually oriented as close to the north-south direction as practical, because the low afternoon sun would be dangerous for a batsman facing due west.
The protected area or danger area is the central portion of the pitch—a rectangle running down the middle of the pitch, two feet wide, and beginning five feet from each popping crease. Under the Laws of Cricket, a bowler must avoid running on this area during his follow-through after delivering the ball.
The pitch is protected to preserve fairness in the game. Whenever a bowler follows through on the pitch, it creates patches in the dirt that cause unpredictable swing and bounce. These areas can be exploited by the bowlers to change the outcome of the match. If a bowler runs on the protected area, an umpire will issue a warning to the bowler and to his team captain. The umpire issues a second and final warning if the bowler transgresses again. On the third offence, the umpire will eject the bowler from the attack and the bowler may not bowl again for the remainder of the innings.
The protected area is protected in this way because the ball normally bounces on the pitch within this region, and if it is scuffed or damaged by the bowler's footmarks it can give an unfair advantage to the bowling side. The rule does not prevent the bowler or any other fielder from running on the protected area in an effort to field the ball; it applies only to the uninterrupted follow-through.
State of the pitch
A natural pitch with grass longer or more moist than usual is described as a green pitch or green seamer. This favours the bowler over the batsman as the ball can be made to behave erratically on longer or wet grass. Most club and social cricket is played on pitches that professional cricketers would call green.
A sticky wicket – a pitch that has become wet and is subsequently drying out, often rapidly in hot sun – causes the ball to behave erratically, particularly for the slower or spin bowlers. However, modern pitches are generally protected from rain and dew before and during games so a sticky pitch is rarely seen in first-class cricket. The phrase, however, has retained currency and extended beyond cricket to mean any difficult situation.
As a match progresses, the pitch dries out. The Laws of Cricket bar watering the pitch during a match. As it dries out, initially batting becomes easier as any moisture disappears. Over the course of a four or five-day match, however, the pitch begins to crack, then crumble and become dusty. This kind of pitch is colloquially known as a 'dust bowl' or 'minefield'. This again favours bowlers, particularly spin bowlers who can obtain large amounts of traction on the surface and make the ball spin a long way.
This change in the relative difficulties of batting and bowling as the state of the pitch changes during a match is one of the primary strategic considerations that the captain of the team that wins the coin toss will take into account when deciding which team will bat first and can accordingly finalise his decisions.
Covering the pitch
The pitch is said to be covered when the groundsmen have placed covers on it to protect it against rain or dew. The use or non-use of covers significantly affects the way the ball comes off the pitch, making the matter potentially controversial. Law 11 of the Laws of Cricket provides that during the match the pitch shall not be completely covered unless provided otherwise by regulations or by agreement before the toss. When possible, the bowlers' run ups are covered in inclement weather to keep them dry. If the pitch is covered overnight, the covers are removed in the morning at the earliest possible moment on each day that play is expected to take place. If covers are used during the day as protection from inclement weather or if inclement weather delays the removal of overnight covers, they are removed as soon as conditions allow. Excess water can be removed from a pitch or the outfield using a machine called a water hog.
Preparation and maintenance of the playing area
Law 10 of the Laws of Cricket sets out rules covering the preparation and maintenance of the playing area.
Rolling the pitch
During the match, the captain of the batting side may request the rolling of the pitch for a period of not more than 7 minutes before the start of each innings (other than the first innings of the match) and before the start of each subsequent day's play. In addition, if, after the toss and before the first innings of the match, the start is delayed, the captain of the batting side may request to have the pitch rolled for not more than 7 minutes, unless the umpires together agree that the delay has had no significant effect on the state of the pitch. Once the game has begun, rolling may not take place other than in these circumstances.
If there is more than one roller available, the captain of the batting side shall have the choice. Detailed rules exist to make sure that, where possible, rolling takes place without delaying the game but the game is delayed if necessary to allow the batting captain to have up to 7 minutes rolling if he so wishes. Rolling the pitch can take a long time but will be very effective once done, rolling of the pitch is crucial to whether it is better for a batsmen or a bowler.
For the 2010 County Championship season, the heavy roller was banned from use during a County Championship match. The belief was that the heavy roller was helping to make pitches flat, and therefore producing too many drawn games.
Before a pitch is rolled it is first swept to avoid any possible damage caused by rolling in debris. The pitch is also cleared of any debris at all intervals for meals, between innings and at the beginning of each day. The only exception to this is that the umpires do not allow sweeping to take place where they consider it may be detrimental to the surface of the pitch.
Groundsmen mow the pitch on each day of a match on which play is expected to take place. Once a game has begun, mowings take place under the supervision of the umpires.
Footholes and footholds
The umpires are required to make sure that bowlers' and batsmen's footholes are cleaned out and dried whenever necessary to facilitate play. In matches of more than one day's duration, if necessary, the footholes made by the bowler in his delivery stride may be returfed or covered with quick-setting fillings to make them safe and secure. Players may also secure their footholes using sawdust provided that the pitch is not damaged or they do not do so in a way that is unfair to the other team.
Practising on the field
The rules do not allow players to practise bowling or batting on the pitch, or on the area parallel and immediately adjacent to the pitch, at any time on any day of the match. Practice on a day of a match on any other part of the cricket square may take place only before the start of play or after the close of play on that day and must cease 30 minutes before the scheduled start of play or if detrimental to the surface of the square.
Typically players do practise on the field of play, but not on the cricket square, during the game. Also bowlers sometimes practise run ups during the game. However, no practice or trial run-up is permitted on the field of play during play if it could result in a waste of time. The rules concerning practice on the field are covered principally by Law 17 of the Laws of Cricket.
Pitches in different parts of the world have different characteristics. The nature of the pitch plays an important role in the actual game: it may have a significant influence on team selection and other aspects. A spin bowler may be preferred in the Indian subcontinent where the dry pitches assist spinners (especially towards the end of a five-day test match) whereas an all pace attack may be used in places like Australia where the pitches are bouncy.
Pitches in England and Wales
Green, swing promoting and humid conditions sums up the construction of English pitches but everything depends on weather e.g. in summer it may behave like Indian pitches too. Early in the season, most batsmen have to be on their guard as English pitches prove to be most fickle, like the country's weather. Later in the summer, the pitches tend to get harder and lose their green. This makes the task easier for batsmen and only genuine fast bowlers like those bowling in range of (135–150 km/h) and spinners can contain. Spinners prove less effective in the first half of the season and tend to play their part only in the second half. The humid conditions and little dust makes the grounds ideal place to practice reverse swing with a 50-over old ball. Of all grounds, The Oval is the most dangerous as the ball reverse swings most there. Another reason for this is traditionally it hosts the last international test match of a touring side in a summer.
England is the hub for considerable research in the preparation of cricket pitches, and some outstanding research has recently been conducted by Cranfield University working with the ECB and The Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG). The same has laid down fresh guidelines for preparation of pitches and is likely to improve the efficiency of a number of groundstaff.
Pitches in Australia
Pitches in Australia have traditionally been known to be good for fast bowlers because of the amount of bounce that can be generated on these surfaces. In particular, the pitch at the WACA Ground in Perth is regarded as being possibly the quickest pitch in the world. The Gabba in Brisbane is also known to assist fast bowlers with its bounce. However, these kinds of bouncy pitches also open up more areas for run-scoring, as they promote the playing of a lot of pull, hook and cut shots. Batsmen who play these shots well have a lot of success on these pitches.
Other stadiums like Adelaide Oval and Sydney Cricket Ground have been known to assist spinners more as these pitches have more dust cover. This makes the stadiums an attractive ground for batsmen; teams on an average have scores of 300 or above in their first innings. The Melbourne Cricket Ground can assist seam bowlers initially, but it has a tennis-ball bounce which can negate the potency of bowlers once a match progresses.
Swing bowling can be a weapon in Australia, but unlike England, it depends upon the overhead conditions, similar to the Indian subcontinent.
Pitches in India
Pitches in India have historically supported spin bowling rather than seam or swing. A ball bowled at pace may carry to the keeper on two bounces taking the slip catching out of the equation. Such pitches had virtually no grass, afforded little assistance for pace, bounce, or lateral air movement, but created good turn. In decades past, legendary spin bowlers—most notably the Indian spin quartet of the 1960s and 1970s, consisting of left-armer Bedi, offspinners Prasanna and Venkataraghavan, and legspinner Chandrasekhar—routinely toyed with visiting teams to plot dramatic victories for India in home test matches, particularly on turning pitches in hot, humid conditions at Eden Gardens in Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) and Chepauk in Chennai (then known as Madras). Sometimes 2.5 inches of turn favours the batsmen and spinner reckons not to spin the ball. They outwitted opposing batsmen not only through line, length, and trajectory variations but also by physically and psychologically exploiting rough spots resulting from wear and tear on the playing top and cracks from increasing surface dryness as a game progressed. The Indian batsmen being superb players of spin bowling have generally relished home conditions. Also few opposition teams have fielded quality spinners with Australia having Shane Warne in the team an obvious exception. However, when England toured India in 2012, having lost the first test they played a second spinner, Monty Panesar, to accompany Graeme Swann in the remaining three tests, of which England won the second and third, drawing the fourth. Unusually, both English spinners took more wickets more cheaply than their Indian counterparts. Some pitches do favour swing and seam such as Bangalore. While the Brabourne and [SALEM] and Wankhede stadiums in Mumbai and Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi never offered nearly as much turn to spinners, winning a series in India was nevertheless quite difficult, and considered an ultimate challenge for visiting teams, as it is to this day.
Indian pitches and attitudes have changed considerably in the past few years though. The induction of several newer 'green top' venues (such as the ones at Mohali and at Dharamshala), the emergence of Indian medium-fast bowlers, plus the development of domestic league cricket with international participants in the form of IPL, Ranji Trophy, ICL, have resulted in a greater variety of pitches. Some contemporary pitches provide good support for pace, bounce, and swing, giving visiting teams from countries such as South Africa and Australia the feeling of being at home. Surfaces are often tailor made to be flat tops or excessively batsmen-friendly, for the sake of maximising entertainment value, at the expense of all types of bowlers. But at time the reverse is true especially in the IPL wherein pace heavy teams often come-up with green pace friendly pitches to maximise chances of victory.
Pitches in South Africa
Pitches resemble those in Australia with added swing (lateral) movement and comparatively lesser bounce. However, genuine fast bowlers who can hit the deck hard and hope for some seam as well do the most damage, the like of which are Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel, André Nel, Fanie de Villiers, Vernon Philander, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis. Spinners gain no assistance, as in New Zealand, and have to toil hard. This is perhaps a reason why South Africa has failed to produce a quality wicket-taking spinner.
The exaggerating bounce at Wanderers Stadium has turned into "just perfect" for stroke players witnessing the 438 game. Other than that, batsmen can be undone by pace which explains why quality backfoot players who practise with strong fast bowlers, such as Pakistan, always struggled at Wanderers.
Pitches in New Zealand
Pitches in New Zealand, like the ones at Eden Park, Auckland and Basin Reserve, Wellington can have a green tinge similar to their counterparts in England. These cricket grounds are amongst the most picturesque in the world. The ball swings a lot due to the proximity of most grounds to the sea, relative humidity and moisture under the surface. New Zealand pitches are often bouncy and quick in nature due to the usual grass cover left on them. The grass cover offers seam movement early on, but also maintains the integrity of the pitch which can often dampen the effect of spin bowling but allows pitches to flatten out over the course of a match. Batting can be trying early on and batsman often take time to adjust to the conditions. As they are often in open stadiums bowlers can frequently be assisted by winds that increase the speed the batsmen faces the ball at one end. At the other end, the wind acts as a wall and decreases the pace on the ball and as result adjusting to this is often the most trying part for a visiting team.
As of 2015 prominent New Zealand seam bowlers of the current era include Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner and Adam Milne. The spin bowling duties are shared by off-spinner Mark Craig and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi.
Pitches in the West Indies
The West Indies tends to produce balanced pitches. Neither is the bounce too disconcerting nor is the movement extravagant. It also does not assist spin like subcontinent pitches and hence for quality batsman they could be batting paradises. However, bowlers who are willing to bend their backs find some assistance from these pitches. Pitches here have earned a reputation of helping the quicks somewhat mainly because of the era gone by when West Indies used to have some of the fastest bowlers in cricket and hence the pitches appeared to be faster than they are. Tall bowlers like Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Ian Bishop, Colin Croft, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh produced bounce and speed even on the most docile pitches that wreaked havoc to any side and they used to run through the line-up. However, some of the best batsmen have arisen from the Caribbean too, like Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Desmond Haynes, George Headley, Clive Lloyd, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Rohan Kanhai, Chris Gayle and Brian Lara. Spinners also have something in the pitches as they tend to deteriorate by day four, offering a little dust and cracks for spinners to exploit. But due to insufficient support to spin in the Caribbean pitches, West Indies has not produced many all-time great spinners with the exception of Lance Gibbs.
Pitches in Pakistan
Pitches in Pakistan have historically supported spin bowling rather than seam or swing. However, the conditions in most grounds of Pakistan, like Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshwar have also seen support for the reverse swing capabilities of the local bowlers in past times like Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz , Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram. The dry and windy conditions usually lend good support to the faster bowlers as well. Such pitches had virtually no grass, afforded little assistance for pace, bounce, or lateral air movement, but created good turn. In decades past, legendary offspinners such as Saqlain Mushtaq credited for the doosra, and legspinners such as Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed, routinely toyed with visiting teams to plot dramatic victories for Pakistan in home test matches, particularly on turning pitches in hot, humid conditions at Arbab Niaz Stadium and Gaddafi Stadium. Pitches in Pakistan are flat and considered batting paradises for batsmen in winter; they suit spinners in summers.
Pitches in Bangladesh
The Bangladeshi wickets receive a lot of rain fall in little time which reflects the soggy nature. The conditions vary from grounds like Sher-e-Bangla Cricket Stadium and Chittagong Divisional Stadium. The basic idea of producing wickets in Bangladesh is to avoid using grassroots when they are building up the layers of soil. The roots hold the water and retain moisture for an extended period. It helps bind the wicket better, making it a harder surface eventually. It also slows the process of wearing down.
Pitches in Sri Lanka
Pitches are generally dusty and shorn off grass; the rain here also makes for a "sticky wicket". Wickets are generally flat and don't offer much bounce – however, the pitch at Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy offers generous bounce and favours fast bowling. Bowlers get help under the lights. Spin is the key in these conditions, and spinners have fine records on the pitches in Sri Lanka. The heat requires an extreme level of fitness, while sweaty clothing makes it difficult to shine the ball. Reverse swing, off-spin, leg-spin are all effective tools in such conditions.
Pitches in Zimbabwe
Pitches in Zimbabwe closely resemble those in South Africa. The only difference being in the nature of the bounce. The pitches in South Africa provide fast bounce while the pitches in Zimbabwe tend to have a spongy, tennis ball type of bounce, which makes hitting on the up a risky proposition. Most pitches have slower bounce, hence batting is more favourable in Zimbabwe.
Conditions at the Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo tend to aid batsmen, with spin coming into the game in a big way in the latter stages. The pitch has some grass, though not green enough to leave batsmen anxious. With the temperature touching 28 degrees, the strip is expected to dry out quickly and flatten into a batting beauty. The seamers' best chance will be with the new ball, and both teams feel keen to make first use of the pitch.
Pitches in UAE
The UAE features spin-friendly pitches. New ball helps the bowlers and bowlers eye reverse swing and spin with the older ball. UAE conditions differ significantly from those of Pakistan due to the Gulf's sandy soils. Bowlers with a straight arm action like Johan Botha tend to reap wickets at these pitches. Grounds are not that hard. Dubai Cricket Stadium offers some grass, and fast bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar loop the ball on to the ground. Sheikh Zayed Stadium is batting-friendly, and the cracks come very late into play.
The word pitch also refers to the bouncing of the ball, usually on the pitch. In this context, the ball is said to pitch before it reaches the batsman. Where the ball pitches can be qualified as pitched short (bouncing nearer the bowler), pitched up (nearer the batsman), or pitched on a length (somewhere in between).
Unlike in baseball, the word pitch does not refer to the act of propelling the ball towards the batsman in cricket. Cricket fans usually refer to this action as a ball or as a delivery. (Also, the word ball does not imply anything about the accuracy of the delivery. In baseball, by contrast, a ball is a pitch that both fails to enter the strike zone and is not swung at by the batter.)
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