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The Financial Express

Pitch made especially to suit hosts may backfire

| Updated: February 26, 2021 23:50:18


Pitch made especially to suit hosts may backfire

Cricket is no longer what it was before the introduction of the shorter versions. Many believe Test cricket played over five days has no future at a time when mad rush governs people's life. They ought to have watched the recent Australia-India series which India won against all odds 2-1.

The game of glorious uncertainty made a fool, in his own admission, of Michael Vaughn, a former English cricket captain who predicted after the first Test that India lost unceremoniously and were all out for 36 in the second innings. It was perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest ever comeback for a Test-playing team. No one-day or T20 thriller can come close to the second innings of India in the fourth and final Test, which decided the series in India's favour. No wonder, Rishav Panth became a toast of the team and a cricketing celebrity overnight.

Right at this moment almost all cricket-playing nations are either taking it to the field or have completed their schedules. Most of the matches were held in empty stadiums because of the pandemic. But the Test series starting from the ones between West Indies and England to New Zealand and Pakistan to India and Australia to Pakistan and South Africa to England and Sri Lanka to Bangladesh and India to India and England did not fail to generate enthusiasm among the large cricket following. Spectators may not have the opportunity to be physically present in stadiums but they were all well focussed to the matches.

Admittedly, to cricket connoisseurs, the shorter versions simply proved to be a sideshow. It was the Test matched that drew their attention and some of the sterling feats by some of the leading cricketers made the matches particularly absorbing. Keane Williamson of New Zealand and Joe Root of England have performed at the highest level so far and their teams have whitewashed Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively. The English team demands greater credits for doing it on opponents' soil. Even they beat India comprehensively in the first Test.  

Test series are even more important because of deciding the two finalists of the inaugural Test Championship among the contenders. A last-minute rule change by the International Cricket Council has even made contests trickier. According to this the highest proportion of win will decide the finalists. So the stake is high.

If cricket followers' focus is on cricketers, the latter's focus is definitely on their training, practice and physical fitness. But there is another character ---albeit inanimate ---which behaves more like a living entity. This is no other object than the pitch. The defeat of three South Asian teams at the hands of their visitors should give some circumstantial evidence---and therefore food for thought---why pitch made to favour the host team may at times backfire.

Take the case of the Indian team that conquered Australia on the latter's home turf. Even with the main bowling arsenals unavailable, the young Turks played the matches fearlessly on a lively pitch. The pace battery was not as lethal as they could be with Bumrah, Umesh and Shami in the squad. But they bowled their heart out and had its instant dividend. Similarly the batting line-up without Virat Kohli, their main batter, took the battering but still held their ground and there emerged a daredevil in the form of Rishav Panth who was ably assisted by Sundar, Shardul and other debutants.

At home what they get is a dead wicket made especially for spin bowling. The team that was flying on their performance on lively pitches in Australia has been fed up with something unsavoury. The curators of grounds could not do so if they were not instructed accordingly. Now, the ploy has turned out to be a boomerang.

This is no different for Sri Lanka or even Bangladesh. Both teams have surrendered to spin. All three teams have invited their undoing simply by engineering pitches so blatantly to suit their spinners. The visiting teams have come well prepared and they have turned the table on their hosts. Admittedly, it is within the hosts' right to prepare wicket to the liking of their bowlers but a balanced attack between fast bowling and spin does not at least lead to a humiliating defeat for the hosts.

This is proved particularly by the Test series between India and Australia. The pitches assisted both pace and spin bowling. The second Englad-India Test has only reaffirmed the contention. England failed to negotiate Ravichandran Ashwin and companies on a pitch considered a paradise for spin bowling and meekly surrendered with the series now level 1-1. What remains, however, a mystery is his batting in the second innings ---a century. Is it because his mastery in turning the ball has also given an insight for reading the pitch better than even the established batsmen? If his batting prowess looks somewhat enigmatic, Rohit Sharma's was a class act. When someone can stand tall like him, the initiative is seized. Whatever may be the case, scalping pitches should have a limit.

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