In-Focus

In-Focus: England Playing Conditions

No matter what cricket’s evolution has brought in, the high that we get from Test cricket is always irreplaceable.

Even though Test cricket is played in many countries, England is always a special occasion for the parent format of cricket.

Every country has different Test cricketing conditions. For instance, in India, hot climate, and flat wickets. In Australia, it’s all about the bouncy tracks. Likewise, England, being the originator of cricket, has unique factors.

England never fails to bring the aesthetics out of the games played there. From the toss until the post-presentation, they follow the rituals that have been developed from the olden days.

The combo of greenish ground and grey clouds makes the English grounds the most beautiful place in the world.

Especially the mighty Lords cricket ground- the mecca of cricket, is a dream destination for not only the cricketers but also the passionate cricket fans around the world.

It can be said that the greatest achievement for a cricketer is getting his name etched on the honour boards of the Lords. It’s been a dream for many greats of cricket. And, for many, it just ended as a dream.

Apart from the history behind every English ground, there are other questions that every fans wanted to ask, like

  • What makes Test cricket in England so special? 
  • What are the English factors that can trouble the visitors? 
  • Why is it difficult to beat England on their home?

To know, let’s delve into the English conditions.

Habitat of swing bowling

The moisture content in the atmosphere of England grounds is the primary element for the swinging conditions.

England is a country where humidity is found in abundance. Even the hottest summer in England will experience humid heat and no dry weather.

So the humidity on the surface gives a bowler more stability to swing in whichever climate he bowl in England.

Addedly, the moist air gives turbulence on the sides of the ball, and what comes, as a result, is the swing of the ball according to the direction of the air.

Overhead conditions

Infact, it is a well-known fact that the overcast conditions favor the bowling conditions while the batters prefer sunny conditions to bat without any trouble from the ball.

Because the grey clouds provide more humidity and stability to the surface, and England is found to have more murky days, the British pitches are the paradise of swing bowling.

Here is what the legendary Australian bowler, Bob Massie has to say about his 16 wickets on his debut match against England at Lords.

“Once I woke up and looked out of the window and saw the greyness there, I knew it was going to be a day that if I, you know, bowled fairly well, I should get wickets because it was one of those tailor-made days for swing bowling. “

Meanwhile, on sunny days, there won’t be many swings from the ball. Despite the presence of moist air, the hot air that rises from the ground due to heat cuts off the atmospheric stability, which aids the swing.

Smart batsmen make use of the sun to score runs in England.

“Even during the Champions Trophy, the wickets were superb when the sun was out. In the heat, the wickets get really flat. I am sure they will give beautiful tracks to bat on. I don’t think there will be much difference in the conditions unless there is a heavy cloud cover. If there is a cloud cover, the ball might go around a bit.– Sachin on England’ overhead conditions when he spoke about his expectations on the pitches of CWC 2019.

England cricket pitches – the green tops

English cricket pitches are mostly green.

The green tops provide the swing and seam movement, as well as the ball pitch. Even though the ball doesn’t get extra pace from the pitch because of the softness in the English soil, the seam movement and swing will have every element to bemuse the batsmen.

“In England you have to hit that right length. There will be seam movement but the pitches won’t be as quick as they are in Australia.” says the legendary Australian face bowler, Glenn McGrath.

Even in hard pitches like old Trafford, the seam presentations will have its reward because of the humidity factor in the environment.

The hard pitches in England were brought in to provide a fair contest between the bat and ball.

But eventually, due to the evolution of modern-day cricket, the England pitches started becoming flat and slow. And it has now become a worrying factor for Test cricket lovers as it reduces the high-quality demand of the longer format.

“The heart of Test cricket is the kind of surface that you play on. If you provide good pitches, cricket cannot be boring, cricket cannot be damp and (there will always) be those exciting moments, exciting bowling spells, great batting. That is what people want to see. ” – Tendulkar on the controversy that arises on Lord’s pitch was laid on for the 2nd Ashes test 2019.

The Dukes ball theory

“That Dukes ball, it buries egos pretty quickly.” said Virat Kohli to the Australian Test batsmen before the Ashes 2019.

The Dukes ball that’s been for England from 1760 has molded to provide the best Test cricketing experience.

Moreover, the English Dukes balls are added with grease to make them water-resistant from the wet grass and moist air of the England grounds.

Consequently, the English Dukes balls are darker than any other cricket ball.

Because of the Scottish leather and the added grease, the Dukes ball shines more than any other red ball in cricket. Moreover, the compactness and hand-made stitched seams of the Dukes gives utmost comforts for the bowlers.

how cricket ball swings

And also, the English Cricket Board plays with the balls that are mainly manufactured to retain the seam and shine for a long time, which helps in swinging for a long time.

Even if the ball gets older due to the damp pitches and hot conditions, the dukes’ reverse swing wouldn’t be a pleasant watch for the batsmen.

And, that is why, on the experts opinion on the recent Saliva ban by ICC, it is said that the effect of the ban will be less in England than any other playing conditions.

“I love bowling with the Dukes ball. It seams, it swings. It does help as it is difficult to be a fast bower with grounds getting shorter and wickets getting flatter,” said Bumrah. “So if the ball does something, it becomes an even competition. So you feel you are in the game. With no help, you only have a few things to play with. So I enjoy bowling most with the Dukes ball.” says the Indian fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah.

A string of fast bowling greats

Any bowler who can bowl with a good seam presentation can be dangerous in the England conditions.

So imagine how treacherous it will be to face the host team bowlers who run in to bowl with the advantage of the home condition and the ear-splitting roar from their supporters.

The oldest cricketing nation has never failed in producing the seam bowlers, who can trouble the visitors relentlessly.

There are many greats in fast bowling from the English soil, namely, Fred Trueman, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, Sydney Barnes, and many others who have carried on the legacy of English swing bowling.

Especially the current crop, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are recreating the art of seam bowling in cricket. Even the bosses of batting have felt the downfall in these Englishmen spells.

Look at one of Anderson’s deadliest spells with the changing weather conditions adding trouble to the Sri Lankan batsmen.

Virat Kohli on James Anderson – “He has been very relentless with his skills and that is why he stands at the top of the fast bowlers leaderboard and he deserves it totally.”

The likes of Anderson and Broad, who are among the top bowlers in the world, will move the ball around all day.” – Wasim Akram on the famous English bowling duo.

The rain factor

Since England is a rain-prone country, most of the English Tests are affected by the rainfall.

Even though England has a sound recovery system from rain, the outfields are still affected by the rainwater. And that becomes the reason for many washed out matches without even a ball being bowled in England.

Despite being the parent nation of cricket, there are still issues over the facilities they use on rainy conditions. Specifically, the covers that ECB uses to cover the ground.

This factor mainly disturbs the mental strength of the players. As the weather in England is known for rapidly changing, the players have to switch their gameplans every time it pours hard. Mainly the batters who walk into the middle after rain, have to start fresh every time.

Because of the wet ground conditions, even the settled batsmen would have to assess themselves again.

So it requires some flexible mindset from a player to manage this unpredictable rain element in the English conditions.

The A grade spectators

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Undoubtedly, this is one of the toughest external factors that can affect the visitors who get in the midst of an England ground.

The English crowd will be the first to acknowledge and appreciate the talents and performance.

Every single boundary from the visitors gets the applause from the pavilion, which is not so in any other country.

Vice-versa, the players, must be strong enough to manage the jeering crowd when they don’t do well.

The best example is the chant from the English crowd on Steve Smith – “cheat,cheat, cheat” during the Ashes 2019. This is when Steve Smith came to play his first Test match after his two years ban.

Every time he went on to bat or grab the ball while fielding, there was booing around the ground.

The English crowd can get to any core when they find something disturbing to their expectations. 

You can boo him when he comes out to bat at the start of innings, but seeing him getting booed when he came back out after being struck by Archer, that was disappointing. The fans that booed Smith are not cricket fans according to me.” says Mitchell Johnson on the crowd’s booing at Steve Smith. 

In Test cricket, where patience and temperament are the basic elements, the crowd factor plays a major role in every cricketer’s mind.

Particularly the Barmy army – the group that supports the English team with their songs, banners, and chants. As the numbers in the Barmy army got increased, they have become excellent support for the England cricket team, which has become yet another mental test for the visitors.

UK media

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Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.

Media is the most significant contributor in the game of cricket.

Especially the UK media.

The British media never hesitates to bring up the harsh and controversial comments on the players.

Not even their national team players get spared when they don’t do well in England.

  • Here is a glimpse of how UK media reacted to Jason Roy’s dismissal on the final day of the first Ashes test 2019.

“Sure, nobody expected this flamboyant World Cup hero to turn into a blocker when switching to red-ball cricket. But this was utter brainlessness. An abject dereliction of duty.”

  • UK media on Steve Smith’s performance:

“Smith’s efficiency excites historians and depresses its victims. Home crowd taunts of ‘We’ve seen you cry on the telly’ fall flat when England’s bowlers are the ones weeping inside. Around Edgbaston, you could detect Smith’s persistence lowering English spirits to the point of resignation.

Joe Root’s captaincy was often timid and frequently indecipherable.

England’s body language was dismal. And their bowling ranged from bang average to utter filth.”

Another factor that gets promoted by the media is the opinions that lash out from the former cricketers on the current players during the series.

It has a separate effect on new players who come into play English Tests. Only the experienced cricketers will know how to handle these outside factors.

Conclusion

The above factors would have given you the reasons why Test cricket in England is an emotion.

Undoubtedly, one must have the extreme mental strength to come over the English factors.

While the limited-overs formats of cricket are favoured for the batsmen, Test cricket is the only format that can make bowlers trouble batsmen. It brings out a different type of entertainment.

So England being the seam bowling paradise, the country as a venue takes the tests of the batsmen to a different level with their Tests.

Test cricket will never be at risk until it’s played in England.

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