It’s happened again. When the Manchester Originals hosted the Birmingham Phoenix, Old Trafford was set up to spin. The boundaries were sent back, and the topic of conversation turned sharply to ‘this not being what fans pay to see’.
The first game saw Kirstie Gordon and Abtaha Maqsood carry Birmingham home with fine assistance from Amy Jones’ sharp hands, and the second saw Matt Parkinson tear through the lower order. In what could have been a day to enjoy a bit of spin, it became a day of complaining about pitches (again).
Amongst the many critics, what stood out was England men’s star Ben Stokes taking to Twitter to pick on the pitch. Indeed, Stokes described the pitch as ‘horrific’. The question to ask is of course, whether a slow, turning pitch is synonymous with a bad one.
A Moment in the Spotlight
White ball cricket benefits from a diverse array of pitches. I myself am as partial as anyone to a flat, bash out 220 in twenty overs pitch. Quite simply, it’s very fun when you see the ball flying around all parts of the ground.
Similarly, there’s great entertainment and support to be found in respect to quick, bouncy decks with a bit of movement. The quicks are breathing fire, and batters must be at their sharpest to use the pace to their own advantage. In a way, it’s spinning pitches which are the Milhouse of cricket.
Seen as a bit lame, people roll their eyes when a pitch takes on turn. Much like the best character in The Simpsons, perhaps people should look for a little more sympathy in respect to turners in shorter games.
One good reason is the simple idea of letting spinners have a bit of fun. Sometimes it feels like everyone else is allowed to have their day in the sun, but it’s an aberration when spinners get their rewards. Yesterday was a day to appreciate some fine spin bowling, and instead the tone of much discourse was almost suggesting that there was something a bit dirty about it.
My personal view is that it also helps break up a long stretch of white ball games. Throwing in the odd slow pitch is a cool change in and of itself, plus it makes the run fests that bit more entertaining. You might adore spaghetti, but that doesn’t mean you want spaghetti twice a day for a month.
Away from the question of entertainment, the other half of the debate is centred on whether or not this was done as a bit of chicanery by the Manchester Originals to try and set up a formidable home record. I certainly hope it was.
In a new tournament, the eight teams are doing as much as they can to try and create a sense of identity unique to themselves. One of the best ways to do this is to establish your own style of play. As half of Twitter pointed out, MO may be attempting to replicate the home form of the IPL’s Chennai Super Kings in Chepauk.
The idea is to fill your team with a strong spin attack and take advantage of the fact that this area may be lacking for the visiting teams. The men’s game was a fine example of this. Quite simply, Birmingham Phoenix had no one anywhere close to being as skilled as Matt Parkinson. They simply could not compete with the hosts in the conditions present.
This is an area that I really hope teams in The Hundred lean into. One game you’re heading to Trent Bridge’s short boundaries, then a couple of days later facing a spin off in Manchester. If you want to win a tournament, you should be looking to get the most out of your squad. There’s no honour in Manchester Originals playing lots of spin options on deliberately small boundaries. They should all be encouraged to find their own way.
Less Moan, More Bat
Perhaps the most grating part of this whole conversation is that it feels like we’re once again into the realm of players confusing their own problem with scoring runs, with a pitch being inherently wrong.
In the second game, Moeen Ali was Birmingham Phoenix’s top scorer with 15 runs. The Manchester Originals had three players who beat this score, with Jos Buttler scoring double it. Likewise, Harmanpreet Kaur managed an unbeaten 49 in a losing effort as all of her teammates struggled. The long and short of it, is that it was perhaps not totally impossible to get runs.
Sure, it probably was not a pitch for a huge score with an aggressive strike rate, but runs were still there to be scored. One area which seems to separate players is their ability to read the pitch and assess where best to score runs. Traditionally, Buttler really looks to attack spin, yesterday his most successful shot was tucking the ball down to fine leg. The innings was that of an experienced player doing what was the most appropriate thing for the team and the chase.
Running away from turning pitches will not make them go away. England could ban them, but their players would still face them on tours, or even in other franchise tournaments. A better answer may be for players to simply play on these surfaces a little bit more.
A healthy amount of pitch variation better prepares players for the realities of an international career. The answer is not to express disgust at any pitch which varies from the mode.