Why the ‘wicked-wicket’ lament will forever remain a cry in the cricketing wilderness

It tickles me pink to read articles that suggest there’s something sinister about India “doctoring” pitches at the World Cup before their semi-final.

The yesteryear had similar allegations of home umpires’ favouring the hosts. That rang true. In fact, every nation used to be guilty of that. It used to be tit-for-tat tours.

That is, a host country had subjected the tourists to “absolute shockers”, so when the roles were reversed, it was payback time. It’s not cricket, right?

The ICC must be commended for eventually dealing with an issue that had threatened to drive the summer code into its grave. In fact, cricket officials have arrested the slide better than most codes trying to grapple with technology and “neutrality” to inject some accountability, as well as transparency, to renew the faith among disillusioned fans.

Now the guardians of cricket are facing a new dilemma, although some may argue why should it ever be one? When countries host events and tourists, having “home advantage” is a key privilege. To be the best in the world, play outside your comfort zone.

It’s a pointless ritual — as in yesteryear’s home umpires’ rub of the pitch — levelling allegations at each other of “preparing cooked wickets”. Every nation has done that in cricket since its global ascendancy.

What is a neutral wicket and why should a host nation give up its advantage? What next? Every tournament organiser should allocate only a certain percentage of stadium seating to locals and the rest should be divided equally among other competing countries to ensure there isn’t parochialism.

The debate in preparing pitches is an endless one. Here are some of the variables:

 How many times should a heavy/light roller be used and should it be 50% of each?Should curators be restricted to how much water they can apply?Must ICC have a guideline on the degree of bounce and carry?Ditto the grip and turn on days 3 and 4 when the prime real estate starts crumbling.How slick should the outfield be?

There are many more but the reasons that disgruntled followers can reach extend to ridiculous proportions. Even when teams play on foreign soil, they have to base their selections on probabilities experienced in previous tours. That is, how many spinners/seamers should be in the mix? Does the batting line-up have a mix that can handle swing bowling as much as those who are capable of sweeping tweakers?

The dichotomy of the power struggle in cricket has been distinct for decades — the Asian subcontinent and the England/Australia/New Zealand camp. The West Indies and South Africa are the “outsiders” but it’s the worst-kept secret that the nations have an allegiance to India.

Virat Kohli celebrates after scoring his century, overtaking Sachin Tendulkar. (Photo by Alex Davidson-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

That is best described as paranoia, albeit well founded. People, it’s not just a game. When the cricketers run out to the field, they are making a political statement. Nothing whets the appetite of the subcontinent more than to show its former colonial rulers how to play a game the former had learned from the latter. Like it or not, it’s the sort of condiment many codes would kill for to spice up their sports.

So what is the alternative to striving towards providing “neutral” or “fair” wickets? Nothing had killed my appetite for cricket more than ICC instructing its member nations to adopt “drop-in” pitches for “uniformity” within a country. It’s not uncommon for host nations to push arch rivals from one end of a nation to another where the climate isn’t comfortable.

When a region comprises co-hosts, which teams should be jetting to far-flung locations more than others to unsettle them. For argument’s sake, to jet from Australia to New Zealand and back in a pool will ruffle the feathers of some nations more than others, trying to adjust from sweltering summer climes to chilly spring ones.

It’s for those reasons, the cooked-wicket lament will forever remain a cry in the wilderness of cricket.

You’ll never satisfy everyone. Now, talks of covered stadiums to negate the need for DLS method results captures my imagination as another story for another time.


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