Sticky wicket!

Written by Raju Mehta, Ranji player

The wicket at the recent Test played at the swanky new Narendra Modi Stadium has polarised the cricketing world. There have been various columns and interviews by former players and experts , some criticising the wicket and the others calling out the ineptness of batsmen to tackle adverse conditions. Certain myths and perceptions about both the wicket and the ability of the players need to be exposed to make people realise and think regarding various issues that they have perceived to be different or choose to believe what they read and hear.

The main issue with this Test seems to be that the wicket cannot have been good since the Test lasted for less than two days. Talk is about the broadcasters and the paying public having been denied of 3 days of entertainment, and the vendors of revenue. One must point out that not many pink ball Tests have lasted beyond 3 days. Whether it is the effect of the dew, or the fact that the pink ball swings more than the conventional red ball or the extra length of grass left on the wicket for the ball’s colour to be retained or whether the extra lacquer that is applied to the pink ball so that it retains its colour and hence makes the ball skid through faster than what the batsmen are used to are the reasons that need further study. The fact remains that the pink ball Tests are much faster in pace and the action is much quicker. As mentioned by the Indian captain, this Test was bizarre in the sense that so much was happening so quickly that before anyone could fathom what was happening , the Test was over. The only previous pink ball Test in India, lasted till the first session of the third day and all the wickets were picked up by the fast bowlers of both teams. This wicket did not attract any criticism.

Why as recently as the last tour of Australia, India was bundled out for 36 before the lights were switched on on the third day! England was shot down for 58 by New Zealand in the pink ball Test that they played in New Zealand. Nothing was mentioned about the wickets in these two instances.

It is funny to read comments of former cricketers who called this wicket as “a mockery” of cricket. Need they be reminded of their playing days when they usually asked for and frequently got absolute turners where the wickets arguably were worse than the one at Ahmedabad? Let us take a trip down memory lane to illustrate what is being mentioned.

In 1969-70, when the Australians led by Bill Lawry toured India, India lost the Tests at Bombay and Calcutta as they were then called, and won the Test at New Delhi and asked for a turner for the last Test at Madras to level the series after the Kanpur Test was drawn. Australia out batted India on a wicket which was worse than at the Narendra Modi stadium with Doug Walters and Ian Redpath taking on the likes of Prasanna and Bedi  and the Indian batsmen were bowled out by Ashley Mallett.

In 1976-77, after the famous Vaseline affair when John Lever bowled England to victory in Delhi and Bob Willis and co in Calcutta, India which was expected to win at home, asked for a turner at Bangalore. This wicket too was no better than the one in Ahmedabad and India won the Test. Bishen Bedi was the Indian captain then.

In 1987, in the series against Pakistan when all the Tests were ending in a stalemate, a raging turner much more dangerous than the recent wicket was prepared at Bangalore, unfortunately India lost the toss, the India spinners were not as accurate as was required and Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim bowled Pakistan to victory on a mine field when Sunil Gavaskar, in his last Test inning showed the world his true quality in a batting master class and India fell short by 16 runs. This wicket had some deliveries from Tauseef taking off from a length and going over Gavaskar’s head!

In 1987-88, Dilip Vengsarkar the Indian captain desperately wanted turning tracks against the West Indies team led by Viv Richards, unfortunately by the time they got to Chennai, Vengsarkar was forced to miss the Test and Ravi Shastri led India to victory on a wicket where Narendra Hirwani got 16 wickets on debut.

There may be many more such instances, so how can one blame the pitch in the third Test where 21 of the wickets were either bowled or LBW, which means very few batsmen were caught off their glove at gully or short leg? The fact was that no batsmen in both teams barring Crawley in England’s first inning and Rohit Sharma, showed the technique and the resolve to play on this wicket. In fact Root and Crawley took England to 74 before the third wicket fell and similarly during India’s inning Rohit Sharma and Kohli had taken India to 97, before Kohli tried to cut a full length ball from Leach just before close of play and dragged the ball on to his stumps and subsequently India collapsed for 145 on the second day.

The myth that Indian batsmen are very good players of spin has been proven to be just that – a myth. If you see the number of instances where the Indian batsmen have been found wanting particularly against finger spinners, the instances are many. India has struggled against the like of Mallett, Underwood, Paul Harris of South Africa, Moin Ali, Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon of Australia and even part timers like Michael Clarke and now Joe Root have proved to be their nemesis on a wicket which has given them some assistance.

The actual reason is that in more than a decade, since the international calendar has become so cramped, our national players hardly get a chance to play in our domestic tournaments, also since the BCCI started a policy first of neutral curators for Ranji venues and adopted the leaving of 3mm of grass on the wicket ostensibly to enable our batsmen to play in seaming conditions, led to the demise of top quality spinners in domestic cricket and to inflated figures for even ordinary medium pace bowlers, so when it comes to playing top class spin, our players are found wanting.

The ineptness of the technique of most batsmen is exposed on such wickets which really test the skill and only those batsmen that are good at using their feet like Sunil Gavaskar, Rohit Sharma, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters , or are good backfoot players like G R Viswanath, Joe Root or powerful strikers like Richards have succeeded on these surfaces.

Maybe England would do well to revisit their “rotation” policy again. It made no sense to give Butler a break after the first Test or not play Anderson in the second particularly when Archer was already out injured. It also is mind boggling that Moin Ali was allowed to go back after the second Test. It does beg the question that does Eoin Morgan after winning the World Cup in 2019, wield more power in the corridors of the ECB, as he seems to get the strongest possible squad for the white ball leg of the tour? Did the ECB fail to give the Test tour of India the priority it deserves particularly with the World Test Championship at stake, simply because England is supposed to be playing 17 Test in these uncertain times of Covid? Should they not have rested the likes of Butler, Bairstow, Moin and co for the ODI series instead? These are all legitimate questions that need to be asked. Nobody can say that this third Test was boring. It was riveting cricket even though it lasted for two days, with each delivery being an event.

Now onto Ahmedabad for the 4th Test . It will be interesting to see the wicket which is provided for this game. All eyes will be on the world’s largest stadium.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of FeelitLIVE and FeelitLIVE does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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