Club Cricket Conference

Tuesday, 23rd January 2018

ICC ready to show some teeth after bland Melbourne

By Charles Randall

2 January 2018


The first week of 2018 is significant for Test cricket. The ICC have introduced a new pitch rating system that will penalise ground authorities and could even remove their right to host Test matches - including Melbourne and Lord's.

There is no reason why this system could not be introduced for any venue hosting representative cricket such as minor county games. Bad pitches - bland ones especially - really hurt the longer formats, with five-dayers under threat world wide.

The ICC announced that the pitch for the fourth Test between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground had been rated as "poor" under the ICC 'pitch and outfield monitoring process'.  That was the last assessment to pay no more than lip service to the problem. From January 4 onwards, teeth will be added so that if a pitch - or outfield for that matter - is rated as sub-standard, that venue will be allocated demerit points. Too many of those and you are out, sunshine...

The drop-in pitch at Melbourne did a serious disservice to the game. It was too slow for the batsmen to express themselves and too bland for seam and spin bowlers alike. Here was a recipe for tedium. One can recall the dead Ashes pitch at Lord's in 2015 approaching that description, though the scoring rate was adequate and Australia did bowl England out for victory.

The ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle in his report to the ICC passed on the concerns of the Melbourne match officials over the pitch after Australia had scored 327 and 263-4 against England's 491. The Test Match Special commentators would have described the days of tortuous scoring as "tense" or "gripping" while spectators at the ground might have wondered whether the quality of cricket was worth the trouble or money.

Madugalle's words were: "The bounce of the MCG pitch was medium but slow in pace and got slower as the match progressed. The nature of the pitch did not change over the five days and there was no natural deterioration. As such, the pitch did not allow an even contest between the bat and the ball as it neither favoured the batsmen too much nor it gave the bowlers sufficient opportunity to take wickets."

In 2018 and onwards the ICC will award one demerit point to venues with pitches rated by the match referees as 'below average'. Pitches marked as 'poor' will attract three demerit points and 'unfit' will cop five points. Any venue accumulating five points will be suspended from hosting any international cricket for 12 months. This period rises to two years at a threshold of 10 points. Demerit points remain active for a rolling five-year period.

So Melbourne would have taken a three-point hit from the ICC under the new system. For the next five years this iconic venue would be under threat of a year's suspension, hovering near the five-point threshold.  

Sporty pitches might reduce income due to early finishes at the hosting venue while falling wickets intrigue spectators, but bland pitches have a bad impact on the whole game of cricket.

One has to feel sympathy for the head groundsman, on whose shoulders rests a great burden. Lord's suspended by the ICC? Perish the thought.