International Cricket

Afg vs SA, T20 World Cup 2024, semi-final – ‘Not the pitch you want to have a World Cup semi-final on’

The first two balls of the chase summed up the conditions in which the first semi-final of the 2024 T20 World Cup was played. The first ball practically rolled along the ground, and the next one reared off a similar length. The pitch at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy came in for sharp criticism from observers, but participants in the match had to be careful not to come across as either making excuses or downplaying their achievements, depending on which camp they were in. However, they still ended up making an unflattering assessment of it.
“I don’t want to get myself into trouble and I don’t want to come across as bitter or it being a case of sour grapes,” Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott said when asked what he made of the pitch, “but that’s not the pitch that you want to have a match, a semi-final of a World Cup, on plain and simple. It should be a fair contest. I’m not saying it should be flat completely with no spin and no seam movement, but I’m saying you shouldn’t have batsmen worrying about going forward and the ball flying over their head. You should be confident in your foot movement and being able to hit through the line or use your skills.

“T20 is about attacking and about scoring runs and taking wickets, not looking to survive. If the opposition bowled well and got to a position where they bowled very, very well and it’s through skill, then that’s fine and then it’s about adapting to that. But once the ball starts misbehaving and rolling… if we had bowled as straight as South Africa had, I think you would have seen a very interesting second half as well. South Africa bowled well, used the conditions, and showed our boys what it’s capable of. But it just didn’t go our way tonight.”

South Africa have played in dodgy conditions throughout: be it the underprepared and untested drop-ins of New York, or the excessive spin in Kingstown, or this brute with both excessive uneven bounce and seam movement. Aiden Markram, the South Africa captain, was asked the same question. “Yeah, I mean T20 cricket as a whole, you want entertainment,” Markram said. “The wickets that we’ve had throughout the competition have been pretty challenging. Tonight’s wicket was pretty challenging once again. It’s hard to say that a wicket is not good because it can’t just always be a batter’s game, but I think if we reflect back on this wicket, we’ll probably be pretty happy that we’re not playing here again.”
If the winning team makes it sound like it has made it out of a game of Russian roulette unscathed and can’t wait to leave town, you know something has gone wrong. Tom Moody, speaking on ESPNcricinfo’s analysis show Timeout, said this track was not fit for any game of cricket, leave alone a World Cup semi-final. “I don’t think you would want to see [this kind of a pitch] in any game,” Moody said. “You want a fair contest between bat and ball, and I’m not advocating we need to have surfaces for 200-plus but for one, you need consistent bounce. That’s the most important thing. Any batter will hold their hand up and say that’s the most important thing. If you’ve got one ball that’s hitting the toe of your bat [and] one that you’re feeling you’re going to punch with your gloves [from] the same length, that is a very difficult challenge to combat.

“If you’ve got sideways movement or swing or spin, that’s a different challenge but at least there’s some sort of consistency and you can come up with some sort of strategy or method to combat that. Look, I don’t think that was good enough. I actually covered two games in Trinidad at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy [as a broadcast commentator] and the surface was pretty similar. You see the crazy paving – if I could put it that way – where a lot of dense grass was gathered around those cracks and you could tell that that was the thing that promoted the inconsistency of bounce.”

“As a batter, you’re trying to predict where the ball is going to be. You want to meet it somewhere near the middle of the bat at least. On this pitch, it was almost impossible to do that on any consistent basis.”

ESPNcricinfo expert Andy Flower

Andy Flower, also speaking on Timeout, agreed. “Those conditions were simply not good enough,” he said. “The pitch was so very, very tough for any batsman to play on. We saw some interesting visual shots from above the square and a couple of commentators referenced this being a brand-new pitch; perhaps they could’ve used a pitch that had been used previously [in this World Cup] and therefore you could [go in] knowing it produces a certain type of bounce, something more consistent and predictable. But those shots showed the crazy paving-type effect, and those blocks and the cracks around those blocks produced the wild variance in bounce and, as a batter, you’re trying to predict where the ball is going to be. You want to meet it somewhere near the middle of the bat at least. On this pitch, it was almost impossible to do that on any consistent basis.

“I thought it was actually a little bit dangerous. A couple of balls flew off a length around shoulder, neck, chin-height from the South African quicks. And one of them flew over Quinton de Kock, the keeper’s head and gloves, for four byes. I was pleased that no one got hurt. We got a similar pitch in New York in the early part of the competition, which wasn’t good enough for international-quality quicks. And then we saw it again today and it produced a complete mismatch.”

The track at Brian Lara Cricket Academy has previously produced scores of 40 all out, 78 all out and 95 all out in this World Cup. There has been only one decent contest possible, when West Indies narrowly defended 149, but even in that match they were 30 for 5 at one stage.
Trinidad is home to one of the legendary cricket venues, Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain, but it didn’t host a single World Cup match, losing out to this newer, practically untested venue that made its international debut in men’s cricket less than two years ago.
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