Earlier this month, Pakistan and Australia were playing a Test match on a flat track in Rawalpindi while India were up against Sri Lanka in Bangalore on a paradise for spinners. With T20Is being already preferred over Tests it becomes important to see how such pitches can influence Test cricket.
With multiple formats of the sport being played, Test cricket has tough competition in terms of viewership as compared to the shorter versions. The World Test Championship was found to give context to Test cricket and bring the audience back to the oldest form of the sport. Australia and Pakistan are playing a three-match Test series currently while India played a two-match Test series against Sri Lanka and won it with ease. The playing surfaces in the first Test of Pakistan versus Australia series and the second Test of India versus Sri Lanka came under serious scrutiny for their nature.
The track in Rawalpindi was a flat one while Bangalore hosted a wicket fest for spinners.
Pakistan vs Australia, Rawalpindi Test (March 4-8, 2022)
The Test cricket in Pakistan was played after a long gap. As the sport was making its return to the country after a long gap the hype around it was high. However, the pitch at Rawalpindi did not live up to the anticipation for the Test fixture between Australia and Pakistan. The pitch was extremely flat and it witnessed only 14 wickets over the course of five days. Imam-ul-Haq scored centuries in both innings. In the second innings, the Pakistani openers were playing very dominantly and stitched a partnership of 252 runs.
Even in the second Test of the series pitch didn't do much and it gets highlighted from the fact that no team got all out except for Pakistan in the third innings of the match. Also, even on the last day Australian spinners were not getting much help from the surface.
These kinds of pitches can impact Test cricket negatively in various ways. First of all the game becomes boring without the result from the spectators' point of view. Watching the live-action for five days without any conclusion gets dull. Also, there is no even contest between the bat and the ball which throws the bowlers out of the equation. Such tracks might be a paradise for batters but it might make Test cricket look monotonous.
India vs Sri Lanka, Bangalore Test (March 12-16, 2022)
While one pitch in Rawalpindi was very very helpful for batsmen the other track at Bangalore was an absolute nightmare. When puffs of dust rose from the surface on day 1, the quick end to the match was on the cards. The contest was between two teams with different levels of skill and quality. The result was very quick and the fixture was wrapped up in three days. Shreyas Iyer scored half-centuries in both innings but he also admitted after the game that it was a very tough surface to bat on.
In recent years, this has been a template for the Indian pitches where the spinners are in the game from the starting day. Especially, when India have a weaker opponent the contest gets more uneven due to assistance for spin. The team has the best bowling attack ever in their history of Test cricket and they are using it to their advantage. When England also had quality spinners in their side in the form of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann they beat India by 2-1 in the 2013 Test series. The assistance for spinners on Indian pitches was more evident when Joe Root took a five-wicket haul last year in Ahmedabad.
As much as the flat track ruins the beauty of Test cricket turning track can also spoil it. The pitch again takes the pacers out of the equation and even part-time spinners might trouble elite batsmen on these surfaces. The beauty of Test cricket lies in contests lasting for five days and all results possible on the concluding day. With matches getting completed under four days or in three days the spectators might stay away from the fixture as they get to know where the game is heading in the first two days only.
Pitches play an important role in the survival of Test cricket. They might kill a fair competition between the teams being helpful for a team with quality spinners. When a Test match produces no result or it ends up in a very quick time making it predictable the viewership of the sport might get affected. While India is hosting oppositions like West Indies or Sri Lanka the turning tracks already tilt the game in favour of hosts as they have quality spinners in their side. Also, when Cricket is making a comeback in Pakistan after a long time and the wicket is so dull, the interest and excitement among spectators might fade. Ideally, one can make a pitch where it might be helpful for the pacers in the initial stages of the game and will turn in the last two days.
When Test cricket needs to review itself, it cannot afford to have flat, dead wickets, big first-innings scores, and uneven contests between bat and ball. Even there have been some matches which interested the viewers as the teams fought very hard in spite of the match ending in a draw.