Pakistan vs England, 1st Test, Rawalpindi

The Rawalpindi pitch where England scored a world record 506 runs on the first day of the first Test was “embarrassing”, according to PCB chairman Ramiz Raja. Describing Pakistan as living in “the dark age of pitch preparation” due to a decade-long hiatus from Test cricket in the country, Ramiz said it would take at least one more season before the quality of the pitches starts to improve.

“It’s embarrassing for us, especially when you have a cricketer as the chairman,” said Ramiz, speaking to the media during the lunch break on the second day of the Test. “This is not a good advertisement for cricket. We are a better cricketing nation than this.”

The quality of Test match pitches has become a point of intense scrutiny, in fact since the day Ramiz took over as chairman last year when he promised to bring drop-in pitches to Pakistan. Although such talks have continued apace over the past 15 months, concrete progress on the subject has been non-existent, and Ramiz dismisses the cost of having them sent from abroad as prohibitive.

“Ultimately, the only situation is a drop-in space. Which is extremely expensive if we take it from abroad. Instead, we develop land here for drop-in spaces. That way we can prepare square turners or bounce wickets depending on what we want.

“This is not a question of not leaving grass on the pitch. The grass looks good from an optical point of view. We have to create bounce, which can happen without grass, which happens on Australian pitches. They don’t leave a lot of grass on the pitch. We gets different tracks in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

“We have the same pitches because we get the same type of soil. We have tried to bring in a creator from abroad; we needed to bring a curator from Australia for the Lahore Test, because the situation had gone out of control. When I want a spin pitch, we don’t get that either, so it ends up being half and half. We don’t want that.”

While Ramiz suggested there were structural issues undermining the pitch’s preparation in Pakistan, there had been relatively little controversy about the quality of the surfaces for the Test series until Australia’s visit to Rawalpindi in March. The pitch for that match produced 14 wickets in five days and was awarded a poor rating and docked a demerit point by the ICC.

Pindi was recently seen as Pakistan’s most piquant Test ground, the one that gave the bowlers the most help. When South Africa visited in January 2021, the Test in Rawalpindi was something of a classic, with all four innings producing scores between 200 and 300, leading to a thrilling climax on day five.

Eighteen of South Africa’s 20 wickets fell to Pakistani bowlers, an advantage Ramiz acknowledged Pakistan needed to exploit. Even the surface in Karachi at the time provided an absorbing contest, with Pakistan triumphing by seven wickets on the final day.

Ramiz’s repeated talk of overhauling pitches in Pakistan has led to criticism that the PCB chairman is micromanaging their preparations. That speculation isn’t entirely unwarranted either, with Ramiz flying in Toby Lumsden, a former curator at the MCG, to help resurface Gaddafi Stadium ahead of the third Test against Australia.

However, Ramiz insisted that he did not interfere in the preparation of individual Test match places. “The board doesn’t control how pitches are made. I’ve left that to the think tank. We look at our strengths and then the pitch and then make choices. I try to limit my involvement because otherwise I can’t hold people accountable. For accountability you have to give up control .I aim to create a pitch that ends up defining our tactics, so that a template is set.

“We are living in the dark age of pitches in Pakistan. They are not exposed in T20 and 50 overs, but they are in Test cricket. We were living in an apartheid situation where the teams did not come here. Pakistani players had played 70 Tests without a player here. It is an achievement that we managed to stay afloat. We’ve tried everything, brought in a curator from abroad. Pitches are the lifeblood of cricket in a country, but having said that, I’ve never seen batting like England’s on Day 1 either .”

Pakistan were untroubled in their own first innings, as England were eventually dismissed for 657, if not quite as explosively. With little seam movement or variable bounce, Abdullah eased Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq to an unbeaten stand of 150 runs. In the Rawalpindi Test against Australia in March, the same pair put on 252 for the opening partnership on the fifth day.

However, Ramiz warned that there would be little immediate improvement in that situation. “This will improve by next season. Unfortunately we will see the same pitches for the New Zealand series.”

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *