Pakistan v England, 1st Test, Rawalpindi

According to PCB chairman Ramiz Raja, the Rawalpindi pitch on which England scored a world record 506 on the first day of the first Test was “embarrassing”. Describing Pakistan as living in the “dark ages of pitch preparation” due to a decade-long hiatus from Test cricket in the country, Ramiz said it would take at least another season for the quality of the pitches to improve.

“It’s embarrassing for us, especially when you have a cricketer as chairman,” Ramiz said while talking to the media during the lunch break on the second day of the Test. “This is not a good advertisement for cricket. We are a better cricketing nation.”

The quality of Test match pitches has become a point of intense scrutiny, effectively from the day Ramiz took over as chairman last year when he promised to bring drop-in pitches to Pakistan. Although such discussions have been ongoing over the past 15 months, there has been little concrete progress on the subject, with Ramez dismissing the cost of sending them overseas as prohibitive.

“Ultimately, the only situation is drop-in pitch. Which is very expensive if we are bringing it from abroad. Instead, we are preparing soil for drop-in pitch here. Thus, we square turners. Or can create a bouncy wicket depending on what we want.

“It’s not a matter of not leaving grass on the pitch. Grass looks good from an optics point of view. We need to create bounce, which can happen without grass, like on Australian pitches. That’s not much. Leaving. Grass on the pitch. We get different pitches in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

“We have the same pitches because we get the same type of clay. We tried to bring in curators from abroad, we needed to bring in curators from Australia for the Lahore Test, because things got out of hand. Want a volley pitch, we don’t get that either, so it’s half. We don’t want that.”

While Ramiz said there were structural issues that had harmed pitch preparation in Pakistan, there had been relatively little controversy about the quality of the surfaces for the Test series leading up to Australia’s tour of Rawalpindi in March. The pitch in that match took 14 wickets over five days, and was awarded a poor rating and one demerit point by the ICC.

Pindi was recently known as Pakistan’s spiciest Test pitch, providing the most support to the bowlers. When South Africa toured in January 2021, the Test in Rawalpindi was something of a classic, with all four innings scoring between 200 and 300, leading to a thrilling climax on the fifth day.

Eighteen of South Africa’s 20 wickets went to Pakistan’s fast bowlers, an advantage Ramiz admitted Pakistan needed to capitalize on. Even then, the Karachi surface presented an absorbing contest, with Pakistan winning by seven wickets on the final day.

Ramiz’s repeated talks about overhauling the pitches in Pakistan led to criticism that the PCB chairman was micromanaging their preparations. The speculation is not entirely unfounded either, with Ramez flying in former MCG curator Toby Lumsden to help level the Gaddafi Stadium ahead of the third Test against Australia.

However, Ramiz insisted that he did not interfere in the preparation of individual Test match pitches. “The board doesn’t dictate how the pitches are made. I leave it to the think tank. We look at our strength and then the pitch and then make the selection. I try and limit my involvement because otherwise. I can’t hold people accountable. Accountability requires you to relinquish control. My goal is to create a pitch that defines our strategies to set a template.

“We live in the dark ages of pitches in Pakistan. They don’t come out in T20 and 50 overs but they do in Test cricket. We used to live in an abysmal situation where teams didn’t come here. Pakistani players played 70 Tests without playing. “It is an achievement to play here that we managed to survive. We tried everything, brought in a curator from abroad. Pitches are the lifeblood of cricket in a country, but having said that, I have never seen batting like England. Not seen. Day 1 too.”

Pakistan had no trouble in their first innings, when England were eventually bowled out for 657, if not quite as explosively. With little seam movement or variable bounce, Abdullah Shafiq and Imamul Haq eased into an unbeaten 150-run stand. In the Rawalpindi Test against Australia in March, the same pair put on an unbeaten 252 for an opening partnership on day five.

Ramez, however, cautioned that the situation would see little immediate improvement. “It will improve by next season. Unfortunately we will see the same kind of pitches for the New Zealand series.”

Daniyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000


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