The Playing Ground – Pitch & Outfield

Preparing a cricket pitch for competitive use is a complex matter, and as a cricketer, it can only be beneficial to understand how exactly a pitch is prepared and what steps/processes are involved.

In saying that, not all players really need to know what is involved in creating a playing surface, but it is important for every player to know how a pitch can be ‘read’ to understand how it will perform.

So any player would benefit from understanding how a pitch would perform from the minute the game starts. Players must continually assess the pitch.

The behaviour of the pitch can be determined by simply asking “What is it doing now?”. The behaviour of the pitch can’t accurately be determined until play has begun. Predictions can always be made however it may play differently than suggested.

The pitch has a huge impact on the game as the captains must decide whether they choose to bat or bowl based solely off the ‘assumptions’ made regarding the pitch. So by now, we’ve understood that it is important to have the ability to read a pitch and also understand how you can adapt to the behaviour of it.

We’re going to also talk about the different components of the cricket playing field.

So the main aspect of the cricket playing surface is the pitch itself, which is a 20.2 metre (22 yards) strip that is in the center of the field, and the outfield being classified as the rest of the ground surrounding the pitch. Usually the ground is oval shaped and it marked by a boundary rope, indicating the limits of the playing area.

The East to West measurement of the ground must be a minimum of 128 metres, and the North to South must be a minimum of 109 metres. Any boundary, either north, west, east or south must not be any less than 54 metres. There is actually no upper limit on the size of the boundary.

These restrictions and rules effectively mean that you would not find any two grounds that are exactly the same, unlike other sports which always have the same fixed playing arena. This is another aspect of cricket that makes it truly unique.

If you look at a cross section of a cricket field, the pitch itself is flat, but it is slightly raised in comparison to the outfield. The outfield gently slopes down from the pitch. The reason for this is that rain and moisture can run off the pitch easily.

Let’s talk about the Pitch

So an ideal Test Match pitch will start off nice and firm, with only a little moisture in the soil and maybe a little bit of grass on top. This pitch should offer consistent bounce and pace for both the bowler and batter.

The outfield would be slightly soft, so that fielders can dive and slide with ease, but also allow the ball to travel nicely.

On the second and third days, the pitch will generally become quicker as it begins to dry out, and this makes it great for batting. Towards the latter stages of a match, towards the end of the third day and moving on to the next few days, cracks will begin to appear on the wicket, and by the fourth and fifth days, the pitch will begin to crumble and also slow down. The reduced speed and increased deviation is beneficial for spinners.

This is often seen where a bowler’s foot marks eventually become the target for spin bowlers to generate additional movement and perhaps uneven bounce.

Pitches in general will be prepared differently depending on the format they are being used for. An ideal ODI wicket should perform the same as a third day wicket of a Test Match.

Another thing to note is that pitches vary around the World, with different preparation and maintenance methods being used for pitches. This also effectively means that performance of these pitches will differ.

The pitches in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia are similarly constructed. They are made with a clay mix and also planted with potentially a few forms of grass. The type of grass that is selected is based on the ability to recover from damage. This means that grasses are chosen based on the ability to recover from certain conditions such as humidity, frost and rain.

This does mean that each field requires a different combination of grasses, drainage systems and ground equipment based on both the summer and winter weather trends for that region. Of course, with the pitch responding to weather changes so much, this means that the pitch can easily vary from season to season. Players must therefore be flexible when playing on a number of different pitches in any given season.

The more clay that is used in a pitch, the firmer it is and this means that is bounces more and has more pace as well. If there is more sand and organic material used in pitches, as is done in the sub continent, then the ball comes on slower and the pitches crumble easier.

The actual impact that the pitch conditions have on a players performance is quite substantial, where the quality of the pitch can eventually display the skill and determination required to score runs.

The batsman are often at a disadvantage when the game first starts, as they have to develop an understanding of the pitch and also figure out how to play the bowlers coming at them from either end. So it is necessary that a batsman gets enough information about both of these topics to perform to the best of his ability.

Below you can find a short summary of the general attributes of pitches around the world:

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia – High clay content, pitches have good even pace and bounce.
Sub Continent – More sand, lower, slower pitches with more turn.
England, New Zealand – More grass wickets, preferable for seam bowlers. Slower outfields.

As you can probably tell by now, it is very important for players to understand the pitch and realise how it will affect their game and the overall game situation as well.