With the Nagpur Test also ending inside three days, the pitch used for the game in which India’s ended South Africa’s lengthy, unbeaten run away from home has come under focus again. The same was the case after the first Test at Mohali, in which India had thrashed South Africa. The current Indian players, the skipper Virat Kohli as well as coach Ravi Shastri have defended the preparation of turning pitches. And now, with the day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand also ending in three days, backers of the rank turners strategy can point out the same.
The easiest defence in the tactic is that all teams prepare surfaces that favour the home side, and also that both sides play on the same pitch so there is no such undue advantage to the hosts. The point here however is not whether these kind of surfaces being prepared are unfair to any side, but about the quality of cricket being produced. Both at Mohali, and more so at Nagpur, batting was like a lottery. If you are lucky, you will survive and score runs, else the ball will do something strange, and send you back to the pavilion.
It’s is great that India have won the series, and have ended South Africa’s enviable unbeaten run away from home. It would be wrong to say that they have done so unfairly. As mentioned earlier, the pitch was the same for both sides, and India won because they played marginally better, and their spinners in particular outdid the South African counterparts. But, the question is, should they be pleased with such sort of a triumph, where the pitch has done most of the work for them, and all the spinners had to do was bowl it in places from where it would rear up.
The whole issue surrounding the ‘rank tankers’ debate began after India lost horribly in Australia and England in 2011, under MS Dhoni. India immediately came back, and prepared turning surfaces for both the teams when they visited India. But, while the Aussies failed to rise up to the challenge, England made India pay for underestimating their skills. The English slow bowlers outshone the Indian spinners en route to their historic triumph in 2012, and Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen combined to give India a nightmare. In contrast, South Africa lost because they weren’t good enough to deal with the conditions.
One is not saying that India mustn’t gain the home advantage. Of course, they have every right to do so. But, the pitches of the 90s and early 2000s were far more satisfactory, while also assisting the home team. There was juice early on day one, followed by two days when the surface becomes a batting paradise, and then the last two days when it starts to turn square. These are the kind of pitches on which India beat Australia in 2001, in what was perhaps the greatest series on Indian soil. Sadly, those days are history.
--By A Cricket Analyst