Under the categories and criteria dealing with the guidance for rating pitches, the ICC have six sections – Very good, Good, Above average, Below average, Poor and Unfit. Broad labelled the Pune pitch ‘poor’ after the first Test ended inside three days in favour of Australia by the massive margin of 333 runs. The M Chinnaswamy Stadium surface in Bangalore was deemed ‘below average’ following a four-day finish, which the home side clinched by 75 runs. But neither the duration nor the result of the game had any bearing on the rating of the pitches.
While acknowledging the skills and complexities involved in the preparation of pitches, the ICC have made it amply clear that the surfaces would be judged entirely on the basis of how they play: “The objective shall be to provide a balanced contest between bat and ball over the course of the match, allowing all the individual skills of the game to be demonstrated by the players at various stages of the match.”
Towards that end, there is no ambiguity about what constitutes each of those six sections:
Very Good: Good carry, limited seam movement and consistent bounce throughout, little or no turn on the first two days but natural wear sufficient to be responsive to spin later in the game.
Good: Average carry, limited seam movement, consistent bounce throughout, natural wear sufficient to be responsive to spin later in the game, though not quite meeting the criteria for carry and bounce for a “very good” pitch.
Above Average: Lacks carry, and/or bounce and/or occasional seam movement, but consistent in carry and bounce. A degree of turn, but with average bounce for the spinner. Falling significantly short of “very good” with respect to carry, bounce and turn.
Below Average: Either very little carry and/or bounce and/or more than occasional seam movement, or occasional variable (but not excessive or dangerous) bounce and/or occasional variable carry. If a pitch demonstrates these features, then the pitch cannot be rated in a higher category regardless of the amount of turn the pitch displays at any stage of the match.
Poor: If any of the following criteria apply, a pitch may be rated “poor”:
a. The pitch offers excessive seam movement at any stage of the match
b. The pitch displays excessive unevenness of bounce for any bowler at any stage of the match
c. The pitch offers excessive assistance to spin bowlers, especially early in the match
d. The pitch displays little or no seam movement or turn at any stage in the match together with no significant bounce or carry, thereby depriving the bowlers of a fair contest between bat and ball.
Unfit: A pitch may be rated ‘unfit’ if it is dangerous.
a. Excessive means “too much”.
b. It is recognised that a limited amount of seam movement is acceptable early in the match and that a pitch may develop some unevenness of bounce for seam bowlers as the match progresses. This is acceptable, but should not develop to a point where they would be described as “excessive”.
c. There is nothing wrong with a pitch that affords some degree of turn on the first day of a match though anything more than occasional unevenness of bounce at this stage of the match is not acceptable. It is to be expected that a pitch will turn steadily more as a match progresses, and it is recognised that a greater degree of unevenness of bounce may develop.
d. It is impossible to quantify the amount that a ball is “allowed” to turn as bowlers will turn the ball differing amounts. The type and identity of bowler shall be taken into account when assessing this factor.
e. In no circumstances should the pitch ‘explode’.
The Pune pitch didn’t offer excessive seam movement, but there was unevenness of bounce and most definitely excessive assistance to spin bowlers, both early in the match and all the way through. The Bangalore track, deemed below average, had both occasional variable bounce and carry, straightaway calling it to be included in the said category.
While there is no sanction if a pitch/outfield is rated below average, a ‘poor’ tag brings with it a warning and/or a fine not exceeding US$ 15,000 with a directive for appropriate corrective action in the first instance. On the second or further occasions with five years of the previous finding, if the pitch and/or outfield gets another ‘poor’ rating, a fine not in excess of US$ 30,000 along with a directive of appropriate corrective action is the penalty.
At the conclusion of each Test match – indeed, each international game – the match referee must fill in the relevant Pitch and Outfield Report, a one-page form with 10 broad self-explanatory parameters topped off by a general comment ‘on the pitch and its effect on the quality of play in the match’, including relevant comments from the captains and the umpires.
These questions with sub-sections relate to:
1) Whether the pitch had a uniform covering of grass, and if so, what its colour was
2) Whether the pitch appeared completely dry at the commencement of the match
3) Whether the pitch and ground covering did not meet minimum Playing Conditions requirement
4) Use of the heavy roller
5) Assess the bounce of the pitch on a daily basis under the Low, Medium/low, Medium, Medium/high and High categories
6) Assess the consistency of the pitch on a day-by-day basis under Consistent, Variable, Highly variable and Excessive unevenness
7) Assess the seam movement on a day-to-day basis under Little or no, Occasional, More than occasional and Excessive sections
8) Assess the amount of turn on a daily basis under Little or no turn, Moderate turn, Considerable turn and Excessive turn
Blocks 9 and 10 in the report form deal with the actual rating for the pitch and the outfield respectively under one of the six categories ranging from Very good to Unfit.
Source: Wisden India