Cricketing folklore has it that the legendary WG Grace, while disregarding the umpire’s decision ruling him out, pointed out that the huge crowds had paid money to watch him bat, not the umpire give decisions!
While this might be an apocryphal tale, it is hardly a secret that spectators fork out huge sums of money to watch flamboyant batsmen in their elements in all forms of cricket, particularly T20.
But what is currently under way in the Asia Cup in Mirpur is a travesty of T20 cricket. Batsmen who were expected to embellish the spirit of power-hitting have had their teeth pulled out by pitches on which survival, rather than hitting, has become the name of the game.
Make no mistake: it is nobody’s argument that the bowling must be cannon-fodder to the pyrotechnics of rampaging batsmen. Still the essence of T20 cricket, which spectators, sponsors and television audiences eagerly lap up, is belligerent batsmanship where fours and sixes are smashed with considerable frequency. Bowlers who put a check to such overt aggression with their skills ranging from variations in change of pace, yorkers, low full-tosses, sharp bouncers, etc are likewise admired.
In this context, the pitches laid out at Mirpur have been a huge letdown. The encouragement that medium pacers have got in the form of pace, seam movement and bounce have made even average bowlers look extraordinarily good. The really good ones, Pakistan’s Mohammed Amir, for example, have become unplayable even for well-organised, skilful batsmen like Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane.
Sure, the very definition of a sporting pitch is the one that offers some encouragement to both batsmen and bowlers. However, for any T20 match to give money’s worth to the paying public, there should be enough runs on board. Teams usually post totals in excess of 160 on a regular basis in T20s.
Unfortunately what we have seen thus far at Mirpur is quite the opposite. There has been just one total in excess of 160 (India 166 for 6 vs Bangladesh) and even that was made possible only because Rohit Sharma (83) batted out of his skin and with Hardik Pandya (31) staged a dogged late-order fight back.
Of course, there is a place for stirring survival battles between bat and ball in cricket. But that lies within the ambit of Test cricket where over five days batsmen and bowlers test each others’ skills in varied conditions and situations. In the shortest version of the game it is the batsmen who are expected to hold sway.
The likes of Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, David Warner, et al hold an exalted status in this format of the game for their innovative ability for power-hitting and not defensive skills. Their skills are still pretty special. T20 cricket leagues around the world are in a frenzy to hire them. The paying public flock to the venue to watch them tear apart rival bowlers while sponsors and television audiences regale in their smashing batsmanship.
Unfortunately not even a whiff of such power-hitting has come through in this Asia Cup tournament.
Players who have batted in traditional fashion, allowing some quarters to the bowlers, have made some runs in Mirpur like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. While their appreciable skills brought the duo runs against Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively, the point that needs to be made is that T20 cricket is designed to appeal to baser instincts of cricket fans. And that cannot be assuaged in pitches like the ones at Mirpur.
It is possible that the ground authorities were concerned that the wear and tear on the pitch would be excessive in a prolonged tournament where all matches were being played on just this one ground.
They might have wanted the top soil to stay bound and firm till the conclusion of the final and given the clay content in the soil opted for strategic ways and means to facilitate that.
One of the ways in hot and steamy conditions would be to allow the grass to spread its roots and bind the soil together. But what this exercise has resulted in is a pitch which is completely at odds with the essence of T20 cricket.