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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 July, 2004, 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK
Poor pitches set tone of disquiet
By Scott Heinrich

Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara falls as Darren Lehmann celebrates
The wicket was difficult and the scores indicated that
Sri Lanka coach John Dyson
Cricketers are not a contented lot at the present time, whingeing as they are in both hemispheres about pitch quality.

In England, New Zealand are not mincing their words when discussing a NatWest Series that has seen the home team twice bowled out in the low-100s.

Despite heading the triangular table, the Kiwis say pitches they have played on so far are "rubbish" and "more like 70-over than 100-over wickets".

With Andrew Symonds hitting 112 off 43 balls in a typically gluttonous start to the Twenty20 Cup on Friday, pitches in England can't be all bad.

Down in Australia, it is Test cricket, the sacrosanct form of the game, which is suffering from sub-standard surfaces.

A three-day Test match involving Australia is not uncommon.

But when the world champions are dismissed for 207 and 201, as they were in their comfortable win over Sri Lanka in Darwin this week, something is not right.

"It's obvious if a Test finishes like that with the quality of batsmen in both teams it's probably not up to Test standard," stand-in Australia skipper Adam Gilchrist said of the pitch in the Northern Territory capital city.

"It probably wasn't as quite exposed in last year's Test here against Bangladesh."

An increasingly jammed international schedule, precipitated by the International Cricket Council's five-year home-and-away plan, meant Australia had to look at playing home cricket in the winter.

Fans appreciate the attention of Australia's 12th man Stuart MacGill
Fans in remote areas are getting their fix, but at what cost to cricket?

The usual locales were out of the question, transformed as they are into Aussie Rules and Rugby battlefields at that time of year.

So, starting last year against Bangladesh, Darwin and Cairns were introduced to the Test scene for the first time.

It seemed a win-win deal. Australia could honour their commitments, while exposing themselves to an enthusiastic fan-base deprived of them.

But cricket must be cricket wherever it is played, and Darwin's drop-in pitch painted nobody in a good light.

Sri Lanka's Australian coach John Dyson summed it up when observing: "Australia don't get bowled out for 200 twice, not very often at all.

"The wicket was difficult to bat on, the wicket was a seaming wicket, but when Australia get bowled out twice for 200 that should tell you something about the wicket.

"When the Test match finishes in under three days that should also tell you something about the wicket.

"The wicket was difficult and the scores indicated that. A good game of Test cricket you would expect to go into the fifth day."

The opportunity cost of year-round international cricket is clear.

Spreading the word is good, as presumably is a regular and cyclical pattern of home-and-away cricket.

But what of Test cricket's image? In an era dominated by 50-over - and shorter - games, it needs all the positive publicity it can get.

The ICC, which discussed a raft of issues in London last week, has one more thing to talk about.


SEE ALSO
Gilchrist leads by example
02 Jul 04  |  Cricket
Aussies peg back Sri Lanka
01 Jul 04  |  Cricket



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