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Cricket pitch

A cricket pitch is the central strip of the cricket field between the wickets. The pitch is 1 chain or 22 yards (20.12 m) long and 10 feet (3 m) wide. The surface is very flat and normally covered with extremely short grass though this grass is soon removed by wear at the ends of the pitch.

In amateur matches, artificial pitches are commonly used. These can be a slab of concrete, overlaid with a coir mat, artificial turf, some times dirt is put over the coir mat to provide an authentic feeling wicket. Artificial pitches are rare in professional cricket—only being used when exhibition matches are played in regions where cricket is not a common sport.

The pitch has very specific markings delineating the creases, as specified by the Laws of Cricket.

The word wicket is often used to refer to the pitch. Although technically incorrect according the Laws of Cricket (Law 7 covers the pitch and Law 8 the wickets, distinguishing between them), cricket players, followers, and commentators persist in the usage, with context eliminating any possible ambiguity. Track is yet another synonym for pitch.

The rectangular central area of the field that is used for pitches is known as the square.

Protected area

The protected area or danger area is the central portion of the pitch—a rectangle running down the middle of the pitch, two feet wide, and beginning five feet from each popping crease. Under the Laws of Cricket, a bowler must avoid running on this area during his follow-through after delivering the ball.

If a bowler runs on the protected area, an umpire will issue a warning to the bowler and his team captain. The umpire issues a second and final warning if the bowler transgresses again. On the third offence, the umpire will remove the bowler from the attack immediately and the bowler may not bowl again for the remainder of the innings.

The protected area is protected in this way because the ball normally bounces on the pitch within this region, and if it is scuffed or damaged by the bowler's footmarks it can give an unfair advantage to the bowling side. The rule does not prevent the bowler or any other fielder from running on the protected area in an effort to field the ball; it only applies to the uninterrupted follow-through.

State of the pitch

If the grass on a natural pitch is longer or more moist than usual, the pitch is described as green. A green pitch favours the bowler over the batsman as the ball can be made to behave erratically on longer or wet grass. Most club and social cricket is played on pitches that professional cricketers would call green.

A sticky wicket is a pitch that has become wet. This causes the ball to behave erratically, particularly for the slower or spin bowlers. However, the pitch is now generally protected from rain and dew preceding and during games so that a sticky wicket is rarely seen in first-class cricket. The phrase, however, has retained currency and extended beyond cricket to mean any difficult situation.

As a match progresses, the pitch dries out. The Laws of Cricket prevent the pitch from being watered during a match. As it dries out, initially batting becomes easier as any moisture disappears. Over the course of a four or five day match, however, the pitch begins to crack, then crumble and become dusty. This kind of pitch is colloquially known as a 'dust bowl' or 'minefield'. This again favors bowlers, particularly spin bowlers who can obtain large amounts of traction on the surface and make the ball spin a long way.

This change in the relative difficulties of batting and bowling as the state of the pitch changes during a match is one of the primary strategic considerations that the captain of the team that wins the coin toss will take into account when deciding which team will bat first

Covering the pitch

The pitch is said to be covered when there are covers on it to protect it against rain or dew. Whether covers are used or not significantly affects the way the ball comes off the pitch, making the issue a controversial one. Law 11 of the Laws of cricket provides that during the match the pitch shall not be completely covered unless provided otherwise by regulations or by agreement before the toss. When possible, the bowlers' run ups are covered in inclement weather to keep them dry. If the pitch is covered overnight, the covers are removed in the morning at the earliest possible moment on each day that play is expected to take place. If covers are used during the day as protection from inclement weather or if inclement weather delays the removal of overnight covers, they are removed as soon as conditions allow. Excess water can be removed from a pitch or the outfield using a machine called a water hog.

Preparation and maintenance of the playing area

Law 10 of the Laws of cricket sets out rules covering the preparation and maintenance of the playing area.

Rolling the pitch

During the match the pitch may be rolled at the request of the captain of the batting side, for a period of not more than 7 minutes, before the start of each innings, other than the first innings of the match, and before the start of each subsequent day's play. In addition, if, after the toss and before the first innings of the match, the start is delayed, the captain of the batting side may request to have the pitch rolled for not more than 7 minutes, unless the umpires together agree that the delay has had no significant effect on the state of the pitch. Once the game has begun, rolling may not take place other than under these circumstances.

If there is more than one roller available the captain of the batting side shall have the choice. There are detailed rules to make sure that rolling, where possible, is conducted so as not to delay the game, but, if necessary, the game is delayed to allow the batting captain to have up to 7 minutes rolling if he so wishes.

Sweeping

Before a pitch is rolled it is first swept to avoid any possible damage by rolling in debris. The pitch is also cleared of any debris at all intervals for meals, between innings and at the beginning of each day. The only exception to this is that the umpires do not allow sweeping to take place where they consider it may be detrimental to the surface of the pitch.

Mowing

Both the pitch and the outfield is mown on each day of a match on which play is expected to take place, if ground and weather conditions allow. Once a game has begun mowings are carried out under the supervision of the umpires.

Footholes and footholds

The umpires are required to make sure that bowlers' and batsmen's footholes are cleaned out and dried whenever necessary to facilitate play. In matches of more than one day's duration, if necessary, the footholes made by the bowler in his delivery stride may be returfed or covered with quick-setting fillings to make them safe and secure. Players may also secure their footholds using sawdust provided that the pitch is not damaged or they do not do so in a way that is unfair to the other team.

Practicing on the field

Players are not allowed to practise bowling or batting on the pitch, or on the area parallel and immediately adjacent to the pitch, at any time on any day of the match. Practice on a day of a match on any other part of the cricket square is only permitted before the start of play or after the close of play on that day, but must cease 30 minutes before the scheduled start of play or if it is detrimental to the surface of the square.

Typically players do practise on the field of play, but not on the cricket square, during the game. Also bowlers sometimes practise run ups during the game. However, no practice or trial run-up is permitted on the field of play during play if it could result in a waste of time. The rules concerning practice on the field are covered principally by Law 17 of the Laws of Cricket.

Pitch construction

Suggestions for a correctly constructed pitch

(a) Carefully assess the drainage requirements. Unless there is a danger of a perched water table developing, a perimeter drain surrounding the table should be sufficient to drain surface water and reduce lateral uptake of water by the table if a plastic lining is not present.

(b) Avoid elaborate (and unnecessary) combinations of a range of materials under the bulli. Medium crusher-run stone should be sufficient.

(c) Ensure that only good quality clay which has been analysed and passed as suitable is used.

(d) Consult widely and make certain that each stage of construction has been carefully researched and planned. Do not allow a hurried operation to justify short cuts.

(e) Be absolutely sure that adequate compaction occurs at every possible stage.

Summary: Recommended procedures for constructing tables vary considerably. Consult local Cricket Union groundsmen and follow proven specifications for your area.

A few examples are given here of recommendations which have been published (our additions are in italics).

Construction specifications will refer to the following factors:

(a) Base conditions and base layers. The general specification is medium crusher run stone or crushed slate.

(b) Each layer of material must be bonded or keyed into the layer below.

(c) The quality of clay must meet standard specifications. Refer to your Union groundsman before deciding to purchase bulli.

(d) Good compaction must be achieved at each level and sub-level.

(e) Ten examples of pitch construction revealed that, on average, the total depth of excavation was some 450 mm, of which the clay soil depth was 240–250 mm (54%). Our information suggests that senior games lasting four or five days demand greater depth of clay for adequate preparation and strength. Shallow bulli must be avoided.

(f) Less than 100 mm bulli is not recommended. Bulli of this depth should be compacted onto a stone layer and not onto loam or sand.

(g) Insert plastic sheeting between the table and the outfield to prevent encroachment of invader grass species.

Example No 1.

(i) Excavate table to 280 mm.

(ii) Lay strips of plastic down the edges of the excavation to prevent grass from entering the pitch area from the surrounds.

(iii) Add crushed stone or slate to a depth of 150 mm. Compact the stone and then score the surface.

(iv) Apply 40 mm fine to medium gravel. Wet and compact. Score the surface.

(v) Complete filling with 90 mm of bulli, firming the material while filling. (Fertiliser, and particularly phosphate, could be mixed in with the bulli at filling to promote root growth. The amount needed can be determined from analysis).

(vi) If necessary, apply potash on the surface.

(vii) Plant sprigs 40 mm apart or spread sprigs over the area after watering, cover with a thin (5 mm) layer of finely crushed bulli and roll with a light roller.

(viii) Once established, topdress to level three or four times.

(ix) Fertilise monthly, irrigating the fertiliser in. Apply, in alternate months, 60 grams of 3.1.5 and 30 grams sulphate of ammonia per square metre.

(x) Roll in all directions—across, diagonally and in line with the pitch. Repeat this often after flooding.

(xi) Cut regularly to a height of 20 mm.

Example No. 2.

(i) Excavate to 300 mm. Slope base gently towards a sump, filled with stones, at one end. Compact base of excavation.

(ii) Line the vertical sides of the excavation with polythene/plastic.

(iii) Place 120 mm of 13 mm crushed stone into the excavation and compact. Mix in sand to assist with compaction.

(iv) Add 80 mm of a loam soil and mix in 50 g supers and 50 g 2.3.2 fertiliser per square metre. Level, water and compact.

(v) Add 100 mm bulli and compact.

(vi) Wash grass sods to remove all soil and tease sprigs apart. Lay sprigs on bulli surface. Add a thin layer of sieved bulli to a depth of not more than 15 mm (sieve apertures 10 mm or smaller) over the grass and smooth.

(vii) Apply 3.1.5 at 50g per square metre and water.

(viii) Water lightly twice daily with a fine nozzle spray until grass shown signs of sprouting.

(ix) Continue to water once daily until grass has covered.

(x) Apply Ammonium sulphate or 4.1.1 fertiliser (50g per square metre) monthly and water.

(xi) Once the grass is well established, topdress.

(xii) Cut to 15 mm.

(xiii) Rub in sieved (1.25 mm gauge screen) bulli, making sure that the grass tips protrude above the bulli.

(xiv) Lightly water twice daily until grass shoots push through.

(xv) Repeat (xiii) and (xiv) until the final level is reached which should be slightly above the level of the outfield.

(xvi) Roll for half an hour with a hand roller in a dry state.

(xvii) Once established, cut as short as possible and apply 3.1.5 and supers (25g/m2 of each) and flood.

(xviii) Commence normal preparation.

Typical pitches

Pitches in different parts of the world have different characteristics. The nature of the pitch is usually very important aspect of the actual game. Team selection and other aspects are greatly influenced by the nature of the pitch. A spin bowler may be preferred in the Indian subcontinent where the dry pitches assist spinners especially towards the end of a five day test match. Whereas an all pace attack may be used in places like Australia where the pitches are bouncy.

Pitches in Australia

Pitches in Australia have traditionally been known to be assist fast bowlers because of the amount of bounce that can be generated on these surfaces. In particular, the pitch at the WACA Ground in Perth is regarded as being possibly the quickest pitch in the world. These kinds of pitches promote the playing of a lot of pull, hook and cut shots. Other stadiums like Adelaide Oval and Sydney Cricket Ground have been known to assist spinners more as these pitches have more dust cover. This makes the stadiums an attractive ground for batsmen where teams on an average have scores of 300 or above in their first innings. MCG has been known to assist seam bowlers particularly, as there has been known to be a lot of grass cover and pitches are quite hard. However, swing in Australia, unlike England, depends upon the overhead conditions, similar to the Indian sub-continent. Batting in Australia is easier on most pitches. Most back-foot players have been known to do well. Sachin Tendulkar is a known front-foot attacker, however, still reigns as the only player to have troubled Australia in most test matches. The only difficulties lie in the unusual bounce of WACA and MCG, added to playing against the most powerful test side, Australia.

Pitches in England

No guesses here, as any avid cricket fan would know the pitches of England. Green, swing promoter and windy conditions sums up the construction of English pitches. Early in the season, most batsmen have to be on their guard as English pitches prove to be most fickle like the country's weather. Only seasoned and skilled batsmen would have less difficulty when they have to play across the line of the stumps. Even medium pace bowlers have known to be a handful in the first few days of the match. Later in the summer, the pitches tend to slow down and lose their green. This make the task easier for batsmen and only genuine fast bowlers like those bowling in range of (130-150 kph) can contain. Here, spinners prove less effective and can only play their part in the last few days. The windy conditions and little dust makes the grounds ideal place to practice reverse swing with a 50-over old bowl. Andrew Flintoff is the only present English bowler with that weapon up his sleeves. Of all grounds, Headingley Oval is the most dangerous as the bowl swings most here. Traditionally, it hosts the last international test match of a touring side in a summer. All other grounds like Lord's, birthplace of cricket and Trent Bridge have slower outfields and hence have added problems for stroke makers. No formidable wicket-taker spinner has been known to come from the English side for the past many years. Only known spinner is Monty Panesar. This is basically due to lack of practice on home pitches.

England is known to produce some of the most dangerous fast bowlers. Recent include James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom, A. Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Darren Gough.

England is known to be a good tutorial ground for any cricketer. Fast bowlers can learn swinging while a batsman can only become complete after playing here.

Pitches in New Zealand

New Zealand doesn't depend more on conditions as its neighbor Australia does. The pitches here, like the ones at Eden Park, Auckland and Basin Reserve, Wellington are more green than their counterparts in England. This makes the stadiums the most picteresque ones in the world. The ball swings a lot due to proximites of most stadiums with the sea and seam and bounce help the fast bowlers. The pitches resemble the South African ones, with added wind. Batting can be very trying and only after 30 overs in a day can a batsman hope to adjust with the conditions.

The famous seam bowlers from New Zealand of current era are Shane Bond, Mark Gillespie, Chris Martin, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Michael Mason and James Franklin. Foreign bowlers like those from Pakistan and South Africa have lesser hardwork to do than those from India and Australia. Daniel Vettori is the only known quality spinner and a orthodox finger-spinner from New Zealand. The country has a long reputation of producing finger-spinners.

Pitches in South Africa and Zimbabwe

Pitches resemble those in Australia with added swing(lateral) movement and comparitvely lesser bounce. However, genuine fast bowlers who can hit the deck hard and hope for some seam as well do the most damage, the like of which are Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Andre Nel and Jacques Kallis. Most South African players are tall, strong and have a good build which makes them ideal to play shots of the rising bowl and hit it hard. Spinners gain no assistance as in New Zealand and have to toil hard. This is perhaps a reason why South Africa has failed to produce a quality wicket-taker spinner.

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. Most pitches have slower bounce, hence batting is more favorable in Zimbabwe.

Pitches in West Indies

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 fastest bowlers in cricket. Tall bowlers like Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh produced bounce and speed even on the most docile pitches which wreaked havoc to any side and they used to run through the line-up. However, some of the best batsmen have arisen from the Caribbean too, like Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, and Brian Lara. Spinners also have something in the pitches as they offer a little dust and cracks from third day onwards. The unexpected bounce also help the tweakers.

People argue that mastering the Caribbean soil is difficult for any bowler as the conditions are very different from most of the other venues. Those like Glenn McGrath have been known to be particularly dangerous on the Caribbean soil and hence, fast bowlers like Stuart Clark have termed the grounds as good learning experience.

Related usages

The word pitch also refers to the bouncing of the ball, usually on the pitch. In this context, the ball is said to pitch before it reaches the batsman. Where the ball pitches can be qualified as pitched short (bouncing nearer the bowler), pitched up (nearer the batsman), or pitched on a length (somewhere in between).

Unlike baseball, the word pitch is not used to mean the act of propelling the ball towards the batsman. This is usually referred to as a ball or a delivery. (Also, the word ball does not imply anything about the accuracy of the ball.)

References

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