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That Pitch – Rights and Wrongs

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There’s been no lack of comment about the Bristol pitch England and India were invited to play their solitary test match on. Can we isolate the real culprit for what went wrong?

The ECB had to find a venue that offered hotel accommodation on site or close at hand. Then a strip in line with TV positions (at both ends). That narrowed the choices dramatically. Two first-class grounds filled the bill, the Ageas Bowl Southampton and the County Ground Bristol.

Hampshire’s thoughts were preoccupied with arrangements for the World Test Match final, so Bristol it was.

The groundsman apologised, but he didn’t have an unused strip that fitted the requirements. Bristol’s square isn’t the widest in the country.

So where did the fault lie? With the ECB surely.

Why did they have to fit a test fixture in after the season’s schedule had already been set in stone?

Because they hadn’t offered the BCCI a test in the first place. The offer came from India, and very welcome it was.

So the pitch took on an appearance similar to the one at Taunton for the Ashes test of 2019.

Then England’s selections were proved to be quite wrong in the circumstances. Lisa Keightley’s refusal to include more than one spinner had dire consequences. Sophie Ecclestone became the first English spinner to take a 4-fer in both innings (@hypocaust.com).

If she had been allowed the occasional rest during her 64-over marathon, with the attack carried on by two other spinners, England would have bowled far more overs and India would have been allowed less time for reflection and restoration. Ecclestone might even have achieved a merited 5-fer (or two). Each of the three spinners in the squad offered a different challenge. Sameness was limited to the quicks.

@hypocaust.com also offers this devastating proof of my contention, drawn from the last two tests played in England (the other the Taunton game):

Pace: wickets 13 ave 60.08
ER 2.90 rpo
SR 124.2
Spin: wickets 37 ave 28.86
ER 2.81 rpo
SR 61.7

Apart from anything else, it reveals the dilemma surrounding England’s two great seam bowlers, Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole. In India’s two innings they took 3-161 between them. That required the back-up pace bowlers, Kate Cross, Nat Sciver and (at the tail-end of the game) Georgia Elwiss, to come to the party. They took a combined 4-134.

A Comparison:

EvA Taunton 2019
1st innings
Brunt 2-48
Shrubsole 0-63
2nd innings
Brunt 0-23
Shrubsole 0-17

Here England played three spinners, Ecclestone, Laura Marsh and Kirstie Gordon. Over the two Australian innings they took a combined 10-378, hard labour, but they took the wickets. The support pace bowlers, Sciver and Elwiss, managed 1-121 between them.

Stats can prove anything, but hypocaust’s are devastating.