2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Cricket, featured

Uber-flat English pitches would mar World Cup

Pakistan just became the first team in ODI history to score 340-plus in three consecutive innings, yet still lost all of those matches in England. That’s how insanely batting-friendly English conditions have become in ODIs.
Despite not having a dominant batting line-up Pakistan have still piled up massive scores of 361, 358 and 341 so far in their away series against England.
So heavily are batsmen favoured in ODIs in England now that when Pakistan made a hefty 7-341 batting first at Trent Bridge yesterday many pundits suggested they had batted poorly, with a par score being around 400.
England then chased that sizeable total down despite missing two of the world’s most in-form ODI batsmen in Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan.
For four years now England has had the flattest pitches in ODI cricket, which, combined with their tiny boundaries, has created a heaven for batsmen and hell for bowlers.
The batting paradises in the UK haven’t been limited to ODIs either. So far in the ongoing English domestic 50-over competition, the Royal London One-Day Cup, there have been 34 totals of 320-plus. Among those have been some monstrous scores like 433, 417, 406, 380, 379 and 377.
England’s Joe Root (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Unless the ICC alters the pitches for next month’s World Cup in the UK, it looks set to be by far the highest scoring tournament we’ve ever seen, with scores of 350-plus being the norm and plenty of 400-plus totals on the cards.
The ICC, not the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), will be in charge of preparing the pitches for this World Cup, as they have been during past editions. Fans can only hope the ICC convince the curators to serve up pitches which offer a fairer balance between bat and ball.
In world cricket’s flagship tournament it would be a shame if bowlers were reduced to mere cannon fodder. That’s not to suggest the ICC should dramatically change the nature of the current surfaces to make them havens for spin or seam bowling. But in such an important tournament, one which rolls around only every four years, there should at least be some level of assistance for bowlers.
The ICC saw to that in the 2017 Champions Trophy in the UK. On average the pitches overseen by the ICC across that tournament were not nearly as lifeless as those typically served up by the ECB.

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There was still plenty of scintillating batting in that Champions Trophy but the bowlers were not turned into third-class citizens either. Batting first a score of 290 to 320 was highly competitive, and there were plenty of occasions on which bowlers ran amok.
Pakistan’s attack did so in both the semi-final and final. The eventual champions rolled England for 211 in the semi-final and then skittled India for 158 in the decider.
Pakistan’s attack won them that Champions Trophy. I would like to think an on-song bowling unit could do the same in the World Cup rather than the tournament being reduced to a slogging contest. England will, of course, hope their home conditions remain massively in favour of batsmen.
The tournament favourites and world number-one ODI team have enjoyed great success in ODIs over the past four years by churning out mammoth totals. In a straight batting shootout on a flat pitch, there is no other batting line-up that can touch England. They have the most destructive batting unit ODI cricket has ever seen.

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But if the ICC does prepare fairer pitches for the World Cup, that will boost the hopes of teams like India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan. India, South Africa and Australia all have much more threatening bowling attacks than England. India and South Africa, in particular, have a fantastic balance between boasting world-class pace bowlers and one or more champion spinners.
Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan, meanwhile, have solid batting line-ups which can be relied upon to consistently score between 280 and 330. But if the pitches are utter roads, and scores of 360-plus are required to win the World Cup, I am not sure those three teams and South Africa will cope. In that case, England and India would become heavy favourites in my book.
If the ICC does the right thing, though, and ensures that reasonably balanced pitches are provided, then we’ll get a wonderfully unpredictable tournament.