English Cricket Grounds
English county grounds have a wide variety of characteristics. Some retain these traits virtually for centuries, others can change appreciably over the course of a couple of seasons. So it is important to keep analysing individual grounds to see which type of bowlers thrive on them. You also get a clue by looking at the sort of overseas player each county recruits. Here is what one could expect at each venue in the summer of 2004:
Derbyshire, Derby With two swing bowlers spearheading the home side's attack, a slow seamer is prepared, but the ground actually has a reputation for being more bowler-friendly than it is. It doesn't spin, either because the home side have not had such a bowler recently.
Durham, Riverside Considered to be one of the best for batting on with the bounce fast and true. If the river water-levels are high then the wicket will help the seam bowlers more. A definite advantage for sides batting second in one-day games.
Essex, Chelmsford One of the best batting strips in the country. Brad Hodge and James Foster both hit double centuries there in 2003. The wicket responds to turn, which probably explains the county's decision to recruit Pakistani spinner Danish Kaneria in 2004.
Glamorgan, Sophia Gardens A pitch which is fair on batsmen and bowlers. The tracks closest to the pavilion are slower than those in the middle of the square. A score of around 300 is thought to be competitive in the championship.
Gloucestershire, Bristol Gloucestershire's one-day success was built on an expertise of defending totals on slow, low Bristol pitches. If the wicket gets too dry then the pitch can crumble. The groundsman often waters the wicket as a result.
Hampshire, Rose Bowl Not good for batsmen. The Indian tourists were so disgusted with the pitch in 2002 that they complained. In 2004 Hampshire's early championship matches were all low-scoring but that probably had more to do with early-season swing and the fact that the hosts' batting was poor and the visiting outfits' even worse.
Kent, Canterbury A pleasant setting for batsmen to bed in and pile on the runs. It is no coincidence that David Fulton, Rob Key and Ed Smith scored heavily down the years batting on such a fast surface. Only bowlers who bend their back get anything out of it early on. It can deteriorate to the detriment of sides batting last.
Lancashire, Old Trafford Every county player will tell you that Lancashire do not shy away from preparing wickets that suit them. When Muttiah Muralitharan took 50 wickets in 2001 the wickets were prepared specifically for turn. They now spin more and more as the season goes on.
Leicestershire, Grace Road Good for batsmen, although not as excellent as some think because of the runs that Brad Hodge has scored in the past. He's just a top player. Efforts have been made to make it turn, but goodness knows why because they have not had a spinner of note for years.
Middlesex, Lord's The new ball will swing because of the high stands, enclosed atmosphere and heavy London air. However, as proved in recent Tests, the pitch appears to get better as it goes on.
Northants, Wantage Road In 2003 Northants deliberately prepared pitches that spun because of the presence of Jason Brown, Graeme Swann and emerging Monty Panesar in their squad. It's a good batting wicket, though, and one that batsmen can't wait to get in on. A result track in the championship in 2003.
Nottinghamshire, Trent Bridge Trent Bridge used to be infamous on the circuit for being impossible to bat on. Pitches were quick and seamed all over the place. That has changed, however and the track is better now. A definite advantage batting second in the championship and first in one-day games.
Somerset, Taunton An absolutely stonking batting track. In nine National League and C&G matches there in 2003 a ton was scored in each one. Another ground which gives advantage to sides batting first in the championship and second in one-dayers.
Surrey, The Oval Quick and bouncy and good to bat on with seamers finding it tough. With Ian Salisbury and Saqlain Mushtaq Surrey have made sure it is a turner, too.
Sussex, Hove It was a misconception that Sussex won the title in 2003 by winning the toss, batting first and bowling Mushtaq Ahmed all day at Hove. They batted first three times but won twice when batting second, too.
Warwickshire, Edgbaston A terrible Test pitch in recent years but the most startling fact about Edgbaston in county action is the record of sides batting second in one-day games. They won eight of 11 limited-overs clashes in 2003.
Worcestershire, New Road In 2003 the bowlers dominated - hardly surprising as New Road was renowned for its difficulty to bat on. That has all changed however, and 2004 saw the nature of the wicket change into one that was terrific to bat on.
Yorkshire, Headingley Yorkshiremen don't like change, so Headingley doesn't. Seam and swing all day long for the bowlers.