Spinning Tracks When a team loses a game it comes up with excuses

Spinning Tracks - The Ultimate Test

- By Piloo Reporter    

When a team loses a game, it comes up with excuses. The number of excuses is on most occasions directly proportional to the manner in which they have lost. So, if they have lost really badly, they tend to complain more! The objects of their ire are the usual 'suspects'; the pitch or the umpiring or the weather or hostile crowd behaviour!

Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting, the losing and 'complaining' captain, with umpires Aleem Dar (left) and Rudi Koertzen during the Mumbai Test.

The pitch is blamed quite often, as was the case in Mumbai recently when the Aussies squealed after losing the Test narrowly. The genuine judges of the game will tell you that the umpiring was excellent in the match. Rudi Koertzen and Aleem Dar withstood the pressures competently and took decisions coolly, confidently and above all, consistently. Mind you, their job was not made any easier by the turning track on which the game was played. This I can say, as the pitch was a 'square' turner and not a 'slow' turner. Further, it had an uneven bounce, which actually is very dangerous. It was no surprise that the batsmen were kept guessing, as also the wicketkeeper and of course, the umpires. The pitch was definitely tailormade for the spinners, but it wasn't certainly 'underprepared' or, as some wise nuts claimed , "unprepared" . That's absolute rubbish, or as Geoffrey Boycott would say' "Roobish!"

Pitches on the sub-continent generally assist the spinners, especially as the game enters the third or fourth day. This is why most of the legendary spinners in the history of the sport belonged, and in some cases, belong to the sub-continent. Hence, umpires from the sub-continent are able to 'read' spinners better than their counterparts from elsewhere, and they are also more conversant with the behaviour of spin-friendly pitches. Umpires from other countries tend to struggle in both departments, although there have been some glittering exceptions to this rule, like Koertzen.

It is extremely difficult to follow the path of the ball after it pitches on spinning wickets. The red cherry literally 'vanishes', as it changes its path and height due to the uneven bounce. Umpires expect the ball to travel knee-high, but it may end up rising to the batsman's waist. Such deliveries could result in bat-pad catches to the men who are surrounding the batsman on either side. If the ball grazes the bat, then it is relatively easy for the umpire to hear the sound. But if it gets deflected off the gloves, it is difficult to make out whether it was only the thigh guard or the pad or the gloves that were involved.

The level of difficulty increases if the ball strikes the pad first and then grazes the glove on the way to the fielder. Whenever this happens, there is a distinct possibility of the umpire getting deceived by the double sound. Sheer experience is an umpire's best guide in such a situation.

It is easier to follow the path of the ball on seaming wickets with a sprinkle of grass. Of course, one has to take into consideration the bounce in the wicket. On Australian grounds, especially the WACA at Perth, the bounce is tremendous. Here, LBW decisions are rare, but catches off the glove are common, especially to the keeper down the leg-side.

Quickies reap a rich harvest of wickets on tracks in England and New Zealand. The overcast conditions that prevail in these countries also help the medium-pacers. The late outswinger is the most difficult to negotiate. Class batsmen watch the ball till the very last moment before deciding to play at it or leave it alone. The bounce on such tracks can be judged in the first couple of overs by watching the height at which the wicketkeeper collects the ball.

It is on tracks that turn that life gets tough and complicated for the batsmen, bowlers, fielders and of course, umpires! I am of the firm opinion that the ultimate test of an umpire is on a turning wicket with unpredictable bounce.