How a pitch will behave is a question which occupies every one’s mind ahead of a cricket game, especially Tests. And how it actually plays and changes colour over five days is a fascinating discovery for players, experts and connoisseurs alike.While pitches in one region may have many attributes in common, every track also has its own nuances. This diversity in playing surface is one the biggest challenges a cricketer faces. He is called great if he wins this challenge.How a team reads the pitch before and even during a game can have a critical say in the result it achieves. Thus, predicting the nature of the 22-yard strip is a much valued expertise. But as veterans and players tell you, it’s an inexact skill as nobody can predict the behaviour of a pitch precisely.When asked who does it the best in the present Indian side, India captain Virat Kohliwas frank. “I am someone who doesn’t look too much at the pitch. I’ll have a brief look and then figure out how the pitch might play. You can never be certain about it.”Not surprisingly, he named coach Anil Kumble, a veteran of 132 Tests and 172 One-dayers, as the one who got it right most of the time. “Anil Bhai is doing a very good job. He is very good at understating and reading the pitch, like how it will behave on the third fourth and fifth days (in a Test). I think that’s more important because getting 10 wickets in the second innings is very important and we can pick the bowlers who could be effective on the third, fourth and fifth day. The first two days will be more or less the same everywhere. Other bowlers too have a great idea but Anil bhai is very accurate with that.He also thought that bowlers were better equipped to understand the vagaries of a pitch. “I think bowlers have a better idea of it because they understand the feel of the soil better…like how much it’s going to seam or how much carry it would have or the bounce of the wicket.”However, Mohammed Shami, one of Kohli’s lead bowlers, had a pretty different take on the issue. “You cannot just look at the pitch and read it. We can just guess and have an idea about how it will play. Only after bowling on it you can guess how much bounce and carry the pitch has. Then you get to know how it behaves and you have to identify that quickly and understand the conditions.”West Indies captain Jason Holder too felt that it was hard to predict the nature of a wicket because many factors have a bearing on a pitch’s behaviour. “We tend to look at the body and try to find if the surface beneath is hard. We look at cracks at the initial stages. Particularly, the last time in Jamaica, we came two days before the Test, it was quite dry. And the next morning, it was very wet. So, it’s hard to just predict.”Most of the time you end up making a final decision on the morning and seeing how it looks on the first day’s play. Otherwise, it’s difficult to read it leading up to game,” Holder opined.
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