Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma of India plays a shot during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup match against Ireland in New York on June 05, 2024. The Indian captain was hit on the upper arm by a delivery from Josh Little, and had to retire hurt. Image Credit: AFP

What happened to the Cricket World Cup? I thought T20 was a batters’ game, where sixes led the hit parade in run fests. Maybe I was spoilt by the Indian Premier League 2024, where totals over 200 were common. Worse, some were chased down easily.

The T20 World Cup hasn’t caught fire as yet. In fact, it has had a damp start. The highest score was the USA’s 197, which overhauled Canada’s 194 in Dallas, Texas. Although Afghanistan struck 183 against Uganda in Guyana, Australia managed only 164 against Oman in Barbados. Well, Ugandan and Omani attacks aren’t the sort that would give batsmen sleepless nights. So the low scores have been baffling.

The biggest worry is the fiery pitches at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium. Two of the wickets produced notoriously low slow scores (96 & 77). The ball seamed around alarmingly, playing havoc with the batmen’s timing. The French cut (aka the Chinese cut, the Surrey cut, or the Harrow drive), the one that flies to the legside, flying past the leg stump, seemed to be a favourite stroke at the New York venue.

Is the New Yok pitch dangerous?

More distressing is the disconcerting bounce. India’s Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant and Ireland’s Harry Tector were hit by deliveries that rose unexpectedly. On June 9 [in UAE], India and Pakistan will play on this pitch in the most awaited clash of the tournament.

A fizzing pitch is not ideal for a high-voltage game. It could turn out to be an undercooked, low-scoring match that fails to whet the appetite of cricket enthusiasts, who have forked out tidy sums for the tickets.

That brings us to the question: Should T20 games be high-scoring affairs? No, not at all. Even low-scoring matches can be thrillers. But I want to see runs in T20 games; people throng stadiums to watch sixes and boundaries.

I’m not saying that the pitches should be loaded in favour of batters. An even battle between the bat and the ball is ideal, but that doesn’t always happen. Matches with scores under 100 are killjoys. Without sixes and fours, the excitement levels stay low, and a clump of wickets can further dampen the mood. It’s totally out of character for a T20 game.

Take a look at the structure of a T20 match. The first six overs are the powerplay, which allows only two fielders outside the 30-yard circle. The open spaces afford batters the liberty to play their shots fearlessly and score quickly. That won’t happen on juicy pitches, where the ball seams and flies around. Batters will be circumspect, robbing the games of the power and thrills in the first six overs.

This is what has happened in New York. The games in Texas, Guyana and Barbados have been better, although the West Indian pitches are reportedly slower. These are early days; some wickets could settle down after some games.

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That may not be the case in the Nassau stadium. The problem is the drop-in pitches (pitches prepared away from the venue and “dropped” into place for the match). The modular stadium in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow was constructed in just over 100 days. Therein lies the nub of the problem.

While the rest of the stadium was made of mostly steel and aluminium, the turf and the pitches posed problems, mainly due to the rain and snow in New York. The pitches made in Australia by Damian Hough, the head curator at Adelaide Oval, had to be taken to Florida before being shipped to New York in time for the World Cup.

That didn’t give the pitches adequate time to settle down. Normally, new pitches undergo a “bedding in” period, which includes lower-grade cricket matches. The only game on the New York pitch was the India-Bangladesh warm-up fixture.

Is it an ideal wicket for a World Cup? Andy Flower doesn’t think so. The former Zimbabwe captain and former England coach told the ESPN-cricinfo that the New York pitches border on the dangerous. That isn’t a reassuring thought ahead of an India-Pakistan clash in front of a Sunday fullhouse.

Win the toss and win the match! That’s grossly unfair.