aka wicket, track, strip
In cricket the pitch is the area on which most of the play takes place. This area is at times referred to as a wicket, as in "Its a good wicket to bat on". Thus the word wicket can be used to denote the pitch. However, there are other meanings of the word wicket. The pitch is typically the most important area of any cricket ground. Each ground has anywhere between one to five pitches in the centre of the ground. The area covered by all the pitches which typically run parallel to each other side by side is known as the square. Furthermore each ground has practice pitches which are sometimes located on the ground itself near the boundary ropes or outside the ground.
A pitch is a rectangular strip 20.12m in length and 3.05m in width. The length between the two sets of wickets at either end is 22 yards. These 22 yards have a great bearing on the game. The batting crease is marked 1.22m in front of the wickets at either end. This is also termed as the popping crease. The wickets are placed along what is termed as the bowling crease. The return creases are placed at right angles to the bowling and batting crease and are placed at a distance of 1.32m from the middle stump on either side.
The two sets of wickets at either end of the wicket are 71.1cm high and the entire set is 22.86cm wide. The three stumps in each set are made of willow. The stumps have two bails which rest on the top of the stumps.
Technical specifications aside each stadium and correspondingly each pitch has its own characteristics and its own nature which makes cricket a very diverse game. It is the nature of the pitch that determines to a large extent the direction that the game will take. Consequently a great deal of controversy sorrounds the pitch.
A discussion on pitches is not complete without a quick glance at the nature of pitches at the different venues around the world. It is interesting to note that while turf pitches are used for test cricket some countries which are new to cricket, where infrastructure is poor, use matting for the pitches.
Beginning with England where cricket originated the nature of the pitches in England is fickle, like the English weather. Early in the cricket season the pitches are a batsman's nightmare as the ball tends to swing and seam prodigiously meaning that only the best batsmen proficient in technique survive the exacting conditions. The batsmen have to eschew flamboyance and flair in favour of tight and compact play to survive and score runs in such conditions. The bowlers on the other hand normally have a field day with even medium pace bowlers who can swing the ball proving to be a handful. However as the season moves towards the summer the pitches tend to flatten out and ease up on the batsmen. Lateral movement off the pitch and swing in the air is comparatively less making the batsman's life that much easier. It then becomes possible to hit on the up and through the line of the ball scoring runs at a fairly brisk pace. At this stage of the season bowlers who are military medium will find it difficult to contain top batsmen. Hence, players from all over the world tend to look at a season in England as a learning experience. Seam and Swing bowlers who bowl at a decent pace (130-160kph) do well in England while spinners have little role to play except perhaps on the fourth and fifth day of a test.
The different test arenas in England have different kinds of pitches. The test stadiums are Lords, The Oval , Headingley, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, Riverside Ground and Bramall Lane. Of all the pitches in England the Oval is normally the easiest to bat on while Headngley poses the biggest challenge. The ball swings more at Headingley than anywhere else.
Australia on the other hand typically sports pitches that have more bounce and carry than the ones in England while lateral movement is less. Swing here depends on overhead conditions. The pitches here are very hard which is responsible for the high bounce. The batsmen who are good backfoot players do well here while batsmen who are in the habit of playing off their frontfoot typically struggle to make the adjustment. However, conditions in Australia are unforgiving if you are a fast bowler and are up against quality backfoot batsmen. Conditions on the whole suit the pacemen more than their spin counterparts.
The test arenas in Australia are Adelaide Oval, Bellerie Oval, Bundaberg Rum Stadium, Exhibition Ground, Marrara Cricket Ground, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sydney Cricket Ground, W.A.C.A. Ground, Woolloongabba (The Gabba). A special mention must be made of the WACA ground also known as Perth. Perth is the bounciest and the fastest pitch anywhere in cricket. Top teams and top batsmen struggle to come to terms with the bounce and pace at Perth. A lightning quick pitch at Perth is something that batsmen dread when they come to Australia. Mention Perth to any cricket lover and he will tell you that the images that come to mind are of batsmen getting hit on the body and on the head. Pacemen rule the roost here. Period.
South African pitches are typically like the pitches in Australia with the exception that they have more sideways movement off the pitch and the bounce isn't as pronounced. Again, pitches here offer the pacemen a lot of assistance while spinners have to toil hard and stick to the basics of line and length to be successful.
The test arenas in South Africa are Buffalo Park, Centurion Park, Crusaders Ground, Ellis Park, Goodyear Park, Kingsmead, Lord's, New Wanderers Stadium, Newlands, North West Cricket Stadium and the Old Wanderers.
Pitches in Zimbabwe are very similar to the ones in South Africa with the only difference being in the nature of the bounce. The pitches in South Africa provide fast bounce while the pitches in Zimbabwe tend to have a spongy, tennis ball type of bounce which makes hitting on the up a risky proposition.
Zimbabwe has three test arenas, the Bulawayo Athletic Club, the Harare Sports Club and the Queens Sports Club.
West Indies tends to produce pitches which are balanced in their nature. Neither is the bounce too disconcerting nor is the movement extravagant. However, bowlers who are willing to bend their backs find assistance from these pitches while top batsmen also find that the pitches are conducive to stroke making. Pitches here have earned a reputation of assisting the quicks because of the era gone by when West Indies used to posses some of the best fast bowlers in cricket. People like Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding among others were fast bowlers who could wreak havoc on even the most docile of pitches. Spinners find that they too can find purchase from the pitches here.
The different test match arenas here are Antigua Recreation Ground, Arnos Vale Ground, Beausejour Stadium, Bourda, Kensington Oval, Queen's Park (New), Queen's Park Oval and Sabina Park.
New Zealand unlike its neighbour Australia produces pitches which promote seam and swing. The wickets here resemble the ones in England and South Africa more than the ones in Australia. Batting here can be extremely trying. Pacemen and swing and seam bowlers tend to do most of the damage. Pitches here tend to sport a very greenish look which helps the faster bowlers a lot. However, the stadiums here tend to be very pretty and picteresque.
The test arenas here are Basin Reserve, Carisbrook, Eden Park, Lancaster Park, McLean Park and Seddon Park.
India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Pitches in the Indian subcontinent have a character of their own. Fast bowlers find life difficult here due to the fact that pitches here rarely promote sideways movement and the ball does not swing in the air much. Any swing there is happens early in the morning which quickly fades away as the sun beats down on the wickets. This means that the batsmen can hit through the line of the ball without ever having to worry about deviation off the pitch. The spinners come into their own here and a good spinner can prove to be the nemesis of many a batsman. The batsmen need to be able to read the flight of the ball and use their feet to get to the pitch of the ball to smother the turn that the spinners obtain. Playing off the backfoot on pitches which offer sharp turn is courting disaster. However lunging for the ball on the front foot is not the answer. One needs to be able to pick up the length of the ball quickly before making the decision of going onto the front or the back foot. Pitches here tend to be dry and tend to wear and tear quickly and fifth day pitches tend to be veritable minefields. The bounce of the pitch becomes very unpredictable and the ball tends to kick and bounce off a good length making batting a test of concentration, determination and skill.
The test arenas in India are Barabati Stadium, Brabourne Stadium, Burlton Park, Corporation Stadium, Eden Gardens, Feroz Shah Kotla, Green Park, Gujarat Stadium, Gymkhana Ground, K.D.Singh 'Babu' Stadium, Lal Bahadur Stadium, M.Chinnaswamy Stadium, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Punjab C.A. Stadium, Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Sector 16 Stadium, University Ground, Vidarbha C.A. Ground, and the Wankhede Stadium.
The test arenas in Pakistan are Arbab Niaz Stadium, Bagh-e-Jinnah, Defence Cricket Stadium, Dring Stadium, Gaddafi Stadium, Ibn-e-Qasim Bagh Stadium, Iqbal Stadium, Jinnah Stadium, Multan Cricket Stadium, Municipal Stadium, National Stadium, Niaz Stadium, Pindi Club Ground, Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, Services Ground and the Sheikhupura Stadium.
The test arenas in Sri Lanka are Asgiriya Stadium, Colombo Cricket Club Ground, Galle International Stadium, P.Saravanamuttu Stadium, R.Premadasa Stadium, Sinhalese Sports Club Ground and the Tyronne Fernando Stadium.