Cricket: NZ to address subcontintent struggles

By David Leggat

New Zealand's Tim Southee, center lying on the ground, celebrates the wicket of India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during their second one-day international cricket match in New Delhi. Photo / AP
New Zealand's Tim Southee, center lying on the ground, celebrates the wicket of India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during their second one-day international cricket match in New Delhi. Photo / AP

New Zealand's batting problems on their tour of India have highlighted a major issue in domestic cricket, which is about to be addressed.

The New Zealand batsmen strove without much luck to solve the riddle of coping with India's high-class spin bowlers in favourable conditions en route to a 3-0 drubbing.

The state of New Zealand's pitches for Plunket Shield cricket have long been a source of frustration for teams. Pitches where the batting conditions were at least as good, if not better, on days three and four as they were for the first two days may soon be a thing of the past.

There are moves afoot to get a more balanced element into country's first-class pitches, the over-arching aim being to help prepare batsmen to cope with variable overseas conditions when they head to challenging climes on national duty.

"We need our players playing in conditions that are challenging at times. That's what you get around the world," said New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White.

Here's a conundrum: New Zealand's pitches for one-day or T20 cricket are highly-regarded. First-class pitches, that's a different story.

NZC's general manager of grounds and facilities, Ian McKendry, has had extensive talks with ground curators and knows it's time something was done to redress the imbalance.

"It's something we've discussed in season debriefs," McKendry said. Pitches which offer something for the spinners on the final day and a half won't lead to negative pitch reports, he said. Pitches which have up and down bounce late on, and help the spinners, will be encouraged.

"That's part of the beauty of cricket. What we have in New Zealand is our one-day and T20 pitches rated some of the best in the world.

"We've reworked the way cricket blocks are constructed, the type of soils used, types of rollers, so our guys have sound knowledge.

"Now when you get longer form pitches, instead of deteriorating sometimes they get better to play on. When a team win the toss, they're quite happy to bowl knowing when they bat last the pitch isn't going to deteriorate and therefore they're comfortable chasing down anything in excess of 300 on many New Zealand venues. (By contrast) Chasing down anything over 250 in other parts of the world is a real stretch."

McKendry insists it's not about a seachange in pitch preparation, more trying to tweak some of the finer points. He pointed out the International Cricket Council encourages variations in conditions around the world, within limitations.

"We don't want anything standard. We want and encourage different conditions within New Zealand," he said.

The climate differences within the country, the fact the east coast is generally drier than the west, different soils and compaction rates are among factors which provide challenges for groundsmen.

McKendry said there has been buy-in from the curators, who see it as a good test of their skills, and there is unanimity about wanting to provide surfaces which offer more potential for balance in games.

"Over the next six months we should see some changes in terms of the conditions they play four-day cricket in. They'll be subtle differences in preparation and hopefully will reflect in the way the game is played."

So what about the coaches? Are they likely to welcome pitches which might make life harder for them to get results?

Northern Districts coach James Pamment is firmly in favour.

"Some of the surfaces we play on are too conducive to seam bowling, but very quickly flatten out. Teams insert the opposition because that's the best chance to get amongst them. But the real reason is they're not frightened of batting last.

"We watched the [New Zealand team] playing in India and there is no way they were going to chase 350-400 in the fourth innings. In New Zealand [domestic cricket], that's the modus operandi and we've got to get away from that."

Rather than grizzle at being rolled on the final afternoon, Pamment suggested coaches would be more inclined to look a how the game had unfolded over the previous three days. "I'd have no problem being spun out on the final afternoon, because that's the way our surfaces should evolve."

Pitching in

• Moves to make New Zealand's first-class pitches more competitive.
• More help for spinners on days three and four, which in turn will help batsmen in their bid to cope better with sub-continental conditions, is a key plank.
• Pitch experts say it's more about tweaking than a major reworking.
• Make conditions more variable in the second half of Plunket Shield matches, akin to what batsmen confront around the world.

- NZ Herald

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