Test pitches ‘not being doctored’

MARK ARTHUR last night described as “absolute baloney” the notion that counties deliberately doctor pitches to guarantee they last for all five days of a Test match.

Mark Arthur (Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Mark Arthur (Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe).

The Yorkshire chief executive has rubbished the concept of so-called “chief executive’s pitches” purposely intended to maximise revenue from international games.

Arthur’s comments come after Nottinghamshire were criticised by some pundits for preparing a placid pitch for the first Test between England and India at Trent Bridge which ended as a draw.

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“There is no such thing as a chief executive’s pitch,” said Arthur, “it’s absolute baloney.

“As a matter of fact, the ideal outcome for a Test match ground is for the game to finish some time just after tea on the fourth day.

“The fifth day costs clubs an absolute fortune – it cost us £35,000 to put on the fifth day of the Sri Lanka Test last month, with little or no chance of income coming in.

“When clubs bid a lot of money to stage Test matches, they base their figures on four days rather than three days or five, and if you deliberately produce pitches that are slow and low, your customers are eventually going to vote with their feet and they won’t turn up in subsequent years.”

Yorkshire lost out on the final day of the Sri Lanka Test as they still had to pay various costs such as stewarding, even though there was little prospect of plentiful cricket.

As it turned out, the day developed into a thriller in front of a small crowd as Sri Lanka won off the penultimate ball of the match.

Arthur, who revealed that Yorkshire received top marks from the International Cricket Council for the pitch produced by groundsman Andy Fogarty, insisted clubs receive no direct instruction about pitch preparation.

He said England talk to the counties but do not issue commands. “The England and Wales Cricket Board are not allowed to give any instructions on the pitches.

“They can say what they would like, or the England team can say what they would like, or they can ask how the pitch is likely to play, which is what happened before the Headingley Test match.

“That question was asked of us and we said that there would be bounce and carry in the pitch and, sure enough, Andy Fogarty produced a great Test match wicket. But there are no direct instructions.”

Arthur sympathises with Nottinghamshire, where he was CEO in the 1990s.

He actually appointed head groundsman Steve Birks, who admitted he should have left more grass on a pitch that was one of the older ones on the Trent Bridge square.

“I feel very sorry for Notts,” said Arthur. “They would not have prepared that pitch on purpose and would have been as surprised as anyone with how it played.

“Steve Birks is a consummate professional and a man who takes great pride in his work.

“Trent Bridge, traditionally, stage great Test matches and it’s the last thing they would have wanted to happen.”

Arthur’s counterpart at Trent Bridge, Lisa Pursehouse, also dismissed the notion of “chief executive’s pitches”.

“The idea that, as a chief executive, I would put pressure on to produce any sort of pitch is a bit silly actually,” said Pursehouse, who had five years in Yorkshire’s marketing department before joining Nottinghamshire in 2000. “At Trent Bridge, all we want is good cricket pitches.”

Arthur believes pitches in general are “pretty good” and is confident last week’s episode was “a one-off”. He feels groundsmen do a grand job given the amount of cricket played at county and international level.

“These days, because there is so much cricket going on, groundsmen have to do a lot of covering up of the whole square. Consequently, the squares often don’t get enough natural rainfall and groundsmen have to use a hose.

“Sometimes, you do need that natural rainfall to help produce the best possible conditions.

“In my view, pitches in general are pretty good, and I think Lord’s are pretty confident in what they’ve produced for the second Test on Thursday.”

While such as Pursehouse battle accusations of putting the financial bottom line first, it is perhaps also incumbent on players to recognise their responsibilities.

Last week, former England captain Paul Collingwood made some strong comments about the pitch prepared for Yorkshire’s County Championship match against Durham at Headingley, which he claimed had holes in it “every four inches”.

Collingwood added: “Hey, hats off if the pitch inspectors don’t come in and see it as a dangerous pitch.”

The pitch was competitive but after Yorkshire scored 426 after Collingwood erred by putting them into bat, his team batted throughout the last day to save the match if not with comfort, then not with intolerable difficulty either.