IND v ENG: A historic Test… for all the wrong reasons

A state-of-the-art stadium, an abysmal Test match wicket: The third Test in the Ind v Eng Test series.

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The only bigger joke than the wicket prepared for the 3rd cricket Test between England and India at Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium, was the renaming of the stadium.

And, in an insult to the memory of one of India’s greatly admired titans, the stadium has been hastily, arbitrarily renamed. The Iron Man, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, oversaw the integration into the Indian Union of 565 princely states after Independence, but at the Ahmedabad stadium, it is back to the pavilion for him.

The wicket itself was abysmal, not befitting a state-of-the-art stadium.

What one does not understand is why is such a strong Indian team so anxious to resort to such desperate measures of doctoring wickets to win at home? They are too good a side to have to plumb such ridiculous depths.

What the wicket exposed, apart from the BCCI’s vacuous thinking, were the appalling techniques of batsmen of both teams. The English batsmen didn’t bother applying sun cream, as they were never going to stay on the wicket long enough to get tanned.

But in the process, the vaunted Indian batsmen too looked out of their depth. India used to produce an assembly line of great players of spin bowling.

No longer, Kohli and Pujara apart.

The shorter formats seem to have played havoc with techniques, and the Indian batsmen hardly used the crease to adjust the length of the ball. They seemed to be playing the ball off the pitch, rather than reading it in the air. Defence and patience were largely absent.

It must be stressed that whilst the wicket was inappropriate for Test cricket, it was far from treacherous. England won the toss and batted, so they had the best use of it, but made a hash of that opportunity.

There is a school of thought that espouses that there is nothing wrong in a country preparing wickets to suit its strengths, after all, “everybody does that”.

No, everybody does not do that.

narendra modi stadium
The recently-renamed Narendra Modi Stadium. Source: Ridhvan Sharma/Wikimedia Commons

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The shortest completed Test in 85 years has just taken place. When you tour Australia, you have to play in Brisbane. It is a quick, bouncy, seaming wicket. Sydney is forever a slow turner, Melbourne low and slow. The characteristics of these wickets is the same during the Sheffield Shield, too. On the other hand, in Ranji Trophy cricket, these Bunsen burners are not the rule. You tend to get flat roads, generally. But, when a visiting team comes, these “akhadas” (rural wrestling pits) are prepared to “welcome” and intimidate them.

One of the world’s most respected cricket writers, former England Captain Mike Atherton has opined that DRS has had a decisive role to play these days as more batsmen get given LBW to the spinners now, than ever before. On the Motera wicket, about 20 batsmen got out bowled or LBW, a highly disproportionate number. They found it difficult to discern which ball was going to turn and which one would go straight?

Another reason for England’s disastrous performance was the lack of skill and pressure applied by their spinners, from both ends. Ashwin and Axar Patel were far more parsimonious and deadly. And why England chose to go with four fast bowlers despite knowing that India were always going to prepare a rank turner, is a great mystery!

A dilemma awaits former Indian pacer Javagal Srinath who, because of COVID restrictions, got to be the hometown Match Referee (they are supposed to be independent). Now, will Srinath report back to the ICC that the wicket was a shocker and totally unsatisfactory, which would result in ICC sanctions for the venue, ultimately?

I doubt that Srinath does not enjoy his job or its perks. If he did say what he should say, will the BCCI nominate him again to be a Match Referee?

All in all, whatever be the rights and wrongs of preparing or doctoring wickets, it cannot be a good thing for Test cricket if fast bowlers simply don’t have a role, or if five-day matches end in two.

It also is not a great advertisement for the game if batsmen look so clueless. The contest was so unfairly skewed in favour of bowlers that batsmen looked mesmerised, and some even traumatized.

India don’t have to resort to the preparation of dodgy, tricky wickets to win at home; the gloss of such victories will forever be tainted, no matter what their justification.

It is also not outside the realms of possibility that the Indian team might find itself reaping an ill-wind, by being trapped on a vicious turner in the 4th Test, and losing ignobly as a consequence.

Karma is a boomerang….

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