Recent Rose Bowl pitches have drawn attention to an ongoing problem in domestic cricket, although it would be wrong to target Hampshire because in my view a few counties have been treading fine lines.
Hampshire needed to win against Nottinghamshire and produced a pitch which was deemed to favour the spinners too heavily and they had eight points deducted. Once that happens counties think twice about producing result pitches. By all accounts it was a really exciting game against Nottinghamshire, but then came our bore draw at the Rose Bowl on a pitch which looked as though it would deteriorate but just got flatter.
Then Hampshire reverted to something favouring spin for the Friends Life t20 quarter-final against Durham. That raises questions about how a showpiece event in front of a 12,000 crowd and the Sky cameras should be staged. Should it be all about the toss or should it be played on the best surface possible?
With the amount of Twenty20 games we’ve had in the last two years they tend to get played on tired pitches because most grounds don’t have enough strips. There is a danger that spinners become more important in this form of cricket than in the four-day game.
The majority of wickets are taken by seamers in the County Championship because pitches generally don’t favour spinners, who need to bowl a lot of overs to develop. It’s frustrating for us at Yorkshire because we would like to play two spinners all the time and have tried to encourage spin at Headingley, but it hasn’t worked.
On most of the main grounds the ball doesn’t really turn because pitches don’t wear like they used to, when the soil was crumblier. Adil Rashid had only bowled about 16 overs in the two Championship games prior to the Rose Bowl match and David Wainwright had hardly played. Then suddenly they were expected to bowl Hampshire out.
Pitches have been a bone of contention with me since we had eight points deducted for a match at Scarborough in the summer of 2000 when Surrey scored 330 for eight on the first day. They were top and we were third, but the pitch was deemed too grassy.
What constitutes a poor pitch is a very grey area. The guidelines are there in black and white but it seems to depend on which umpires are involved, and which pitch liaison officer, and I have doubts about the consistency of decision-making.
We spend a lot of money on a flawed system. Groundsmen are trying to achieve the right balance between bat and ball, but it’s not easy given the weather and the preparation time. We have reduced the amount of rolling at Headingley to try to keep some carry and that seems to have had some benefit in terms of producing results.
Playing on outgrounds this season has obviously helped Lancashire to get results, although it hasn’t done much for their tally of batting points. When we played at Liverpool the pitch started damp but it turned out to be a very exciting match. The fact that there have been a lot of interesting games is good for the competition, but we still have to bear in mind that we are trying to develop players for Test cricket.
Pre-season, I thought Hampshire might be dark horses for the title, but bringing in new signings hasn’t worked for them. It reinforces our belief that it’s best to develop your own players. The problem is you are under pressure to win, so although we love him and he’s part of furniture it’s slightly disappointing that we’ve had to bring Jacques Rudolph back.
But, at the same time, Joe Root and Gary Ballance have emerged and Rich Pyrah has established himself in the four-day team. We also have a young left-handed batsman, Alex Lees, who is scoring runs consistently in the second team. We are still a work in progress, but we hope lessons have been learned this season and believe we can still become a force.
It’s going to be an interesting finish to the season, both at the top and the bottom of Division One. We still have to play Warwickshire twice, which will be crucial games. Lancashire have Worcestershire to play twice, and Durham know how to win. But Somerset are the team in form and have obviously benefited from the return of Alfonso Thomas, who is a very skilful bowler.
We also have to play Sussex at Scarborough and they are not out of the relegation battle, so it’s all adding up to an exciting climax to the 2011 season.
*Martyn Moxon, the former England batsman, is Yorkshire’s director of professional cricket