Pitch battle for Durham – Around The Wicket

LEEDS, ENG. Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan and Durham's Paul Collingwood exchange words during Day 3 of the LV County Championship match between Yorkshire vs Durham at the Headingley Stadium, Leeds on Wednesday 9th July 2014. (Photo: Mark Fletcher | Shut

LEEDS, ENG. Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan and Durham's Paul Collingwood exchange words during Day 3 of the LV County Championship match between Yorkshire vs Durham at the Headingley Stadium, Leeds on Wednesday 9th July 2014. (Photo: Mark Fletcher | Shut

First published in Sport

AT THE time of writing, Durham are spending a day sweating on saving a game at Leeds on a pitch which has crumbled and produced bounce and turn that has been far from batsman-friendly.

While at Trent Bridge, England are toiling on a supremely flat pitch which has been flatter than flat, leading to less than inspiring Test cricket on Ben Stokes’ return to the side.

It may seem churlish for any Durham captain to be critical of pitches favourable to bowlers but Paul Collingwood’s comments on the third evening smacked of infuriation at a pitch which crumbled unduly quickly and of accompanying questionable umpiring decisions, even though as a consummate professional he refused to be explicitly drawn on the matter.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the barely used pitch at Headingley being employed, the state of pitches in England as a whole seem to be an increasingly controversial point.

The pitch at the Riverside has seemed a shadow of its former bowler-friendly self, with the fourth innings of games repeatedly looking like the easiest time to bowl after early life dissipated into nothing.

Many speculate that the drainage installed has begun a slow but steady process of not only making more consistent cricket viable but also in drying out the green seaming pitches of yore.

We can all remember many occasions of bright sunshine beaming down on a wet pitch and absolutely no cricket taking place while the sopper slowly trundled around the pitch and it is obviously preferable to avoid such infuriating circumstances.

Yet with the newly dry pitches, Durham face a new set of problems.

With only the inconsistent, if now Shane Warne mentored Scott Borthwick to turn to, they have looked a spinner short of applying the pressure in such conditions.

Max Morley’s inclusion in the squad for Headingley after a single fleeting T20 appearance last summer, hinted at a realisation that seam is not the only way to go.

There is competition from between him, Ryan Buckley, who was an impressive debutant at The Oval last year and Ryan Pringle who may fit into more of an all-round role within the team.

While Durham may be without a Test this summer, the pitches prepared in the last two summers for England games have predominantly been what Steve Harmison has described as ‘Chief Executives’ pitches’.

The horribly flat wicket at Trent Bridge has presumably been designed to ensure a profit in the face of the massively expensive process of bidding and hosting a Test match.

The pitch may well reach a fifth day but as a result has given India everything they could have possibly wanted.

Gone are the green seaming wickets which would have been beneficial to England, especially against an Indian side who would have been playing significantly out of their comfort zone, and instead we are greeted with harsh attritional pitches which play into the tourists’ hands.

Financially, this may well be beneficial to individual counties yet an England side which continues to lose is a far less attractive proposition than a winning one.

Durham are presumably already fearful about the prospect of selling out next year’s ODI against a rapidly improving New Zealand side, who for all of their exciting young players, still lack a certain glamour.

Quite how heavily in debt clubs and the ECB balance these predicaments is unclear but England’s home advantage in terms of pitches is no more and there approaches a vicious cycle of over spending and reduced demand to see a mediocre national side.

JAMES TIERNAN

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