Once again the pre-match media was all about the preparation of the Indian pitch.
Despite some ominous predictions, Ahmedabad provided the best batting surface of the series and opener Usman Khawaja capitalized strongly to provide Australia a formidable first innings score.
If India needed some tough practice for the World Test Championship, they got what they wanted. Now they may have to rely on other favorable results to reach the final and play Australia at The Oval in June.
Cricket fans inspect the wicket at Headingley after England beat Australia by nine wickets in 1972
The pitch uproar showed why it is troubling that people other than the chief curator/groundsman are allowed to have input into the preparation.
The Head Curator/Groundsman is the best person to make a presentable pitch. Like sportsmen, they are generally competitive and take great pride in their work. Good Test groundsmen say a similar thing: “I want to prepare a pitch that gives everybody a chance to show their skills and gives results late on the last day.”
Indian curators shied away
The operative word is ‘result’. They don’t predict or barrack for a winner. This is not happening in India where some sloppy pitches have been prepared, often at the behest of people other than the ground staff. A good head groundsman in Australia, when asked about specially prepared pitches, says to the above, “Get off the bug and mind your job.”
India are currently under the gun for specially prepared pitches, but they are far from the worst offenders. Indian culture may well have developed under English colonialism.
I was told by former Australian cricketer-cum-journalist Jack Fingleton in 1968, “Never trust the Poms.”
I was sure Fingleton was referring to the administrators and not the players. His words proved prophetic after the diabolical Headingley ‘Fusarium fiasco’ in 1972, where a pitch was specially designed to negate the pace of Dennis Lillee and the effectiveness of Bob Massey’s swing. Not coincidentally, for the first time in the series, England included left-arm spinner Derek Underwood, who was lethal on soft pitches. He claimed 10 wickets in England’s emphatic victory.
England had previous ‘form’ in preparing the particular pitch, including the 1956 Old Trafford fire of Turner. In that one-sided affair, off-spinner Jim Laker took 19 Australian wickets for just 90 runs in a stunning England victory.
Don’t tell anyone that England is not among the leaders in specially prepared pitches.
Australian pitch doctors don’t
Australia may be guilty of administrative failings, but pitch doctoring is not one of them. In general the nature of the Australian first-class pitch is similar to that of its Test match counterpart.
In the current climate it is easy to wonder whether India have forgotten how they won their last two Test series in Australia. They pulled off two spectacular upsets by playing good all-round cricket on genuinely bouncy pitches.
India may have underestimated this Australian team. They are not the best Australian team to tour India, but they are a good fighting unit with some solid batsmen and frontline spinners. Crucially, he has displayed a willingness to attack – though sometimes recklessly – at crucial times.
They are finalists of the World Test Championship, but this important competition could expose a weakness in the system.
The downside of an important contest can be a flurry of bowler-friendly pitches which can result in short games with results. Current Indian coach Rahul Dravid made an astute observation. “It’s really about being realistic about what it takes to do well on some of the challenging wickets we’re playing on,” he added. “If you look at the last three-four years, I think wickets have become much more challenging all over the world,”
Wickets can’t peak
Dravid’s wise words highlight the vast difference between flat white-ball pitches that punish batsmen and spicy Test surfaces that make batting aggression difficult.
The gulf between the two extremes needs to be bridged so that England’s admirable aggression in Test cricket doesn’t go to waste. Test cricket is an endangered species and any feasible help is welcome.