The BCCI’s PR machinery is in full swing. India’s Test series success over Sri Lanka in particular is rather prematurely being projected as Rohit Sharma’s proficiency over his predecessor, Virat Kohli.

In yet another seemingly ill timed move, a former Indian captain’s on air comments on the two players as well as his remarks on Shane Warne’s legacy have been cut down to size by discerning fans even as the latter’s sudden demise hangs heavy over the international cricket world.

Dodgy pitch preparations undermine Test cricket

When the ICC World Test championship was first conceived and then put to the test ten years later, the objective seemed fairly obvious. Against the backdrop of the rising popularity of the shorter formats of the game, the championship – the equivalent of a World Cup – would serve the purpose of providing context and relevance to the traditional five day game, not only reengaging fans and spectator turnout and also, and more importantly, revive the legacy of the much revered format in a new avatar, plausibly even appeasing the cricket boards and sponsors to its lucrative value.

However, it is dubious what credibility can be drawn when pitches such as those in Pakistan and in India being put forth in the series against Australia and Sri Lanka respectively have not only been heavily prepared in the defence of the home team but also, have made the affair a foregone conclusion, turning off the cricket fraternity and fans alike and diluting the cause of keeping the banner of Test cricket flying high.

Criticism for the preparation of pitches in Pakistan for the Test series against Australia has come not only from Australia but from within Pakistan’s own cricket circles. After the pitch in Rawalpindi, venue for the first match which turned out to be a dull draw, was criticised for being a concrete hard top with not a sliver of grass on it, the Karachi Test is already facing flak for being another pedestrian surface, “road” being the word used.

Former Australia captain, Mark Taylor, even lamented on air that by preparing such pitches, Pakistan Cricket Board’s chairman Ramiz Raja was not only trying to negate any advantage to the visitors but also, denying some of Pakistan’s budding fast bowlers the opportunity to thrive on their own pitches at home.

Citing time shortage to prepare pitches since taking over as the PCB chief, Raja’s defence of Pakistan’s pitch preparation has not found support within Pakistan’s cricket fraternity. This after the International Cricket Council (ICC) deemed the Rawalpindi Test pitch as being “below average”, stopping short of calling it “poor”. It is hard to see the Karachi Test being seen as anything different given that Australia had already consumed the better part of two days on another concrete flat, Pakistan’s collapse and/or revival notwithstanding.

It is a real shame because some of the Australian cricketers needed convincing to tour the afflicted region, as Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism wrecked havoc in India’s Mumbai city in 2008. After the Sri Lankan team came under fire from terrorists outside the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore the following year, Pakistan’s cricket fans have been deprived of international cricket at home as foreign teams refused to tour for nearly a decade over security as well as unstable political concerns. It had also put the PCB in a tough spot over cash flow issues and this would not have helped their cause by squandering the potential in hosting a high quality Test cricket bilateral series at home.

Former Indian cricketer, Wasim Jaffer, threw some light on what such pitches do for the game. Here is what he wrote on his social media post:

“I find it amusing when Test matches get over inside four days yet teams lose WTC points for overating. The biggest threat to Test cricket is not overrate. Tests rarely go to day 5 anyway nowadays. The biggest threat to Test cricket is dead pitches. Dead pitch Dead game.”

Closer to home, if the pitches in Pakistan were considered dodo, the pitch in Bengaluru provides plenty of talking points. The first day and night Test between India and Sri Lanka – the second Test of the series – was a historic fact in itself that did not need additional scrutiny or unwarranted spotlight. However, such was the nature of the pitch that the game saw as many as sixteen wickets fall on the very first day, as batsmen faced an enormous challenge, contending with awkward bounce, spin and dust flying in their face within the first hour itself.

While the novelty of a rare day and night Test match at home might have prompted a livelier pitch, the nature was certainly not conducive to the health of the traditional five day game. While there might have been a certain amount of risk calculation involved given that the opposition was the much lower ranked Sri Lankan cricket team, the Indian batsmen did have to contend with a fair bit of challenge in their first innings.

In the overall context of the game, these kinds of pitches provide short lived drama that does not paint Test cricket in a better light. Moreover, while points might accrue to the host team for winning on conducive home pitches, even within the larger banner of the World Test championship, it does little for the game in terms of competing against the likes of Twenty20 and even one day internationals in terms of grabbing interest and eyeballs and more importantly revenue in the form of sponsorship, something the cricket boards might want to pay attention to.

Dodgy comments don’t go unnoticed

Staying in home conditions, the Indian cricket fan is keeping a close eye and is not to be hoodwinked. This came across twice as they did not hold back in expressing opposing views or pointing out double standards, sparing not even the erstwhile Sunil Gavaskar.

Virat Kohli might not have been the most endearing captain in India’s cricket history. But that he is still respected amongst the knowledgeable fan base came across quickly when they chose to dissect the opinion of one of India’s former prolific batsmen and illustrious captains and now commentator.

Pointing out the discrepancy between how Gavaskar chose to frame the dismissals of the two leading contemporary batsmen in Indian cricket, namely, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, the fans even went on to claim that Gavaskar’s “Mumbai bias” was at play.

As the second Test got underway between visitors Sri Lanka and hosts India on what seemed like a rank turner and not the best pitch at that, Gavaskar was quick to point out that on pitches such as that in Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium, dismissals akin to those of the current Indian captain’s were bound to happen when Rohit Sharma nicked the first ball the faced from Lasith Embuldeniya to first slip.

However, in the same breath, he did not hold back from criticizing the former captain. This was Gavaskar’s take on Kohli’s dismissal, playing to a ball that kept low:

“Today you could say that the shot he (Kohli) played shouldn’t have been played…He played across his front pad, which meant he was always going to struggle. If he missed it, he was always going to be a candidate for LBW, which is exactly what happened.”

Kohli played a shot to a ball that kept unusually low, a fact pointed out by fans as being in similar vein to how Rohit Sharma was dismissed in terms of unpredictability of the pitch. Where the fans drew the line was this presumption that Kohli’s was human error while Sharma’s dismissal was a freak of nature. It gave conspiracy theorists another opportunity not only to train the gun at Gavaskar and the Mumbai bias but also, that Kohli was the soft target of BCCI’s propaganda machine.

However, given how things panned out between the BCCI and Kohli before the latter tendered his resignation as the Test captain, this is more likely to be the norm than the exception until Kohli can turn it around once more with the bat and resume his prolific profile as India’s leading batsman in contemporary cricket.

Gavaskar’s ill timed parting shot scythed

Warne’s demise, coming as it did within twenty-four hours of the news of the sudden passing away of another former Australian cricketer, Rodney Marsh, sent a pall of gloom across the cricket world, none more so than in Australia where several cricketers who played alongside Warne expressed shock and disbelief that the 52 year old former leg spinner and now popular commentator was no more.

While several heaped praise and recalled fond memories of playing alongside him, Sunil Gavaskar’s remarks that Warne was not the greatest did not go down well with the large cricket loving fraternity within India itself.

Calling it callous and disrespectful in the wake of the 52 year old leg spinner untimely passing away, fans took umbrage when Gavaskar answered the question of whether Warne was the greatest spinner with this reply: “For me, the Indian spinners and Muttiah Muralitharan were better than Shane Warne. Look at Shane Warne’s record against India. It was pretty ordinary.”

While Gavaskar did later release an apology on his social media, it is interesting to note that he accused the journalist of asking an inappropriate question which it was at the time but also, admitted he should not have addressed it to begin with. Some in the Australian media called it two faced given that Gavaskar then stated that leg spin was a difficult art and few did it better than Warne.

Here are some excerpts:

“He (Warne) mastered a craft which is so difficult to master, which is wrist spin. To pick 700 plus wickets like he did in Test cricket plus hundreds more in one day cricket just tells you how good a bowler he is. Finger spin is a lot easier…leg spin or wrist spin is very, very tough.

“For him to have bowled the way he did, the way he seemed to create magic, the way he seemed to be able to deliver magic deliveries at will was the reason why he was revered all over the world.”

A Damage Repair Exercise in Vain

Meanwhile there is a deliberate attempt to steer India’s victories over Sri Lanka and the West Indies before them as a sign of Rohit Sharma’s vastly superior pedigree as captain over Kohli. While it might indeed be proven right that Rohit has superior leadership acumen, it is too early to judge his captaincy or draw comparison which is unfair to both men at this stage and puts undue pressure on both men to prove themselves. All this does is undermine Indian cricket and its lack of dearth when it comes to talent.

Furthermore, given the quality of the opposition, it holds the potential of setting a dangerous precedent in the context of further polarizing fans as well as the dressing room even as the BCCI attempts to save face after the fiasco prior and during the South African tour that ultimately culminated in Kohli’s stepping down.

While the attempt might be to diminish Kohli’s allure after his public disagreement with the BCCI chief, Sourav Ganguly, that showed both men in an unflattering light, with the discerning fan watching every move, all that this kind of petty debate and denouncement does is to reveal BCCI’s desperation to keep its head above water integrity wise, devaluing further Indian cricket’s stature in contemporary cricket where both men could just as easily share equal space when it comes to respect and recognition within their own right.

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