Controversy unwarranted: Not frail pitch but better temperament and skill favoured Indian cricket team to level Test series with Ashwin missing a personal feat

Sanjoy Roy

February 19, 2021, 09:37:42   

As expected and predicted at the end of 2nd day's play in 2nd test match played at Chennai, Indian team registered an all-inclusive victory over England team. There was no devil in the pitch and the tepid controversy over the pitch was unwarranted. The pitch or wicket was spinner friendly and the combination of bowling attack of Indian team was almost perfect giving the Indian team a relief from defeat of 1st test match. Although some foreign experts had expressed their displeasures finding the pitch assisting the spinners from very first day, it is worthwhile to mention that the nature of pitch throughout the four days of the test match was almost same and behaved equally good as the game progressed with  some sudden inconsistent bounces. To counter the critics of Indian cricket and some experts, it needs to be told that when India goes abroad for playing test matches in England, Australia, South Africa or West Indies, or Newzealand, they prepare a green pitch or seaming or bouncy pitches where Indian batsmen need to cope with the situation and exhibit high degree of skills to adapt with changes. No rules of ICC bar hosts to prepare the pitch as spinner friendly or bounce friendly. In England it is swing or seam friendly pitch, in Australia it is bouncy pitch while the sub-continent pitches are spin-friendly. It is also rule of the thumb that hosts generally prepare pitches according to their strengths and choices with pitch being match-friendly and safe. The rationale behind the arguments of some experts that pitch should favour batsman for first two or three days does not augur well because it is likely to give skewed benefit to a team that bats first. If wickets behave good in first two days and then start behaving oddly from third day onwards or later on, the toss becomes the crucial factor, which should not be ideal, as witnessed in the first test match. Thus good pitches should behave in a consistent manner throughout five days/ a period as match continues. Normal wear and tear due to the use of pitch worsening the pitch is acceptable and fait accompli.


It is assumed that good players of test cricket possess the elevated quality, both in temperament and skill, and the batsmen in particular, are capable enough to negotiate  swing, bounces and spins with a high degree of adaptability. Thus the displeasures of some foreign experts that pitch of 2nd test match at chepak stadium Chennai was frail wicket and not good for test cricket are untenable for many reasons and these arguments should not bother Indian Cricket Board to be trapped in their narratives. In Ashes Test series 2015, Australia was bowled out around 60 runs in 4th test match played at Trent Bridge on the first day surviving 18.3 overs only, very recently Indians got bundled for 36/9 in Australia and the humiliating defeat of Indian team in Newzealand are living examples. Had any expert raised question on the nature and quality of the pitches? No. But now, in India, a section of experts is found uproarious against the pitch of 2nd test right from the Day 1 when 2nd test match began but it left no impact on the results of the test match which India won showing a high degree of professionalism, skill supported by a good combination of players that found lacking in 1st test match at the same venue.


Thus the next test matches should be played in such pitches which would suit its (Indian team) strength and the pitch should behave consistently the same over a period of 5 days giving no extra benefit to batsman or bowlers accruing from toss. The same thing happened in this test match. In first innings, Indian team scored 329 of which 300 runs are scored on 1st day for the loss of 6 wickets, on second day England scored only 136 in their 1st innings while India scored 53/1, On third day India scored 233 runs of which one batsman made a century with another batsman scored 62 runs but England batsman struggled to score runs on the third day losing three wickets. On Fourth day, England collapsed like an amateur playing with a professional. Had pitch been so bad, how Indians scored more than 600 runs in two innings while England batsman failed to score at least 200 runs in either of the two innings, although Indian players battled on 3rd day?


Thus, England team and their supporting experts must come out with an answer. Yes it is fact that Indian spinners are found better than English spinners in this match in terms of accuracy and variety and the track was also conducive to spin bowling. India played with three specialists spinners and two quick bowlers downsizing their batting strength while England came with one specialist spin bowler and one spin bowling-all rounder and two quick bowlers keeping their batting strength unhindered or keeping batting stronger. Thus it was their strategic fallout and their wrong team selection. England failed to extract the benefits of turning track on Day 1 as they had limited number of spin bowlers to pressurize Indian team at a time when India was placed at 86/3. Indian opening batsman Rohit sharma took away the game with the company of Ajinkey Rahane and placed India at a better position. On third day also, India was tottering at 100/6, but England could not sustain its pressure because of their poor depth in spin bowling. The defeat of England team is also due to their conservative and defensive game planning and inability to read the pitch before the match. They might have thought that this wicket would start spinning from Day 3 as happened in 1st test match. Having found blunders committed because of  poor game planning, the blame is shifted on the nature of wicket . It may be mentioned that the same blunder was done by India in 1st test match, when they kept Kuldeep Yadav out from the playing eleven with assumption the pitch would offer sufficient spin to any spinner from the day one but it did not happen and consequently Indian team had to concede 578 runs to England in the 1st innings as other two spinners couldn't bowl well on a flat pitch that required variety and skill to befool the batsman. Although Kuldeep is taken in this match, his services had not been used and utilized to a great extent by Indian skipper  perhaps not needed, his variety was an added advantage go the team and it could be gauged from his performance in 2nd innings .


To conclude, it remains astonishing to witness that R. Ashwin had missed a personal milestone to pick up 10 wickets haul in this match . Rather  he had lost an opportunity to pick up 10 wickets in this test match that could led him join the elite list of three players, viz; Ian botham, Shakib Al Hasan, Imran Khan scoring 100 runs and 10 wickets in a test match. Could he achieve 10 wickets, he would have been 1st Indian cricketer to have such feat in his cricketing career. It was the prerogative of captain Kohli to invite him bowl after England lost their 7th wicket. As R Ashwin had already picked up 8 wickets in this match and scored a century, captain should have given this chance to try and achieve the feat. Whether Ashwin could collect 2 more wickets or not is a different conjecture, but the captain should have given him this chance as the victory of Indian team was settled and decided long ago, waiting for mere formality. This may remain as discontent to R. Ashwin and his sympathizers in a certain corner of their minds. The answer may be best given by Kohli only. It also reminds the declaration of Rahul Dravid in Pakistan when he declared in Indian batting with Sachin Tendulkar batting at 194, that evoked some degree  criticism at that time. Actually cricket has so many funny moments and these might be the reasons why it is different from other sports.


To conclude it may be reiterated that pitch of 2nd test match was not a frail one but a professional pitch. Next two test matches should be played in such pitches that conform to Indian conditions and strengths of Indian team subject to the condition that pitch does not deteriorate appreciably as play progresses .It is the heritage and conventional practice in India that test cricket is played in spin friendly pitches barring some occasions when Indian cricket board tried to prepare some bouncy and green pitches but results were far from expectations. As Indian team is not far from test championship needing either 2-1 or 3-1 victory against England in this series, it should not be the  right time to experiment with the pitch than  following  the conventional theory of wining the home test series. 


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