Australia And India Have Everything To Play For
Poor Indore pitch
The best thing that could have happened to the ongoing Test series between India and Australia following the result at Indore is that it is still an open contest heading to the fourth and final Test at Ahmedabad. If India had won – and this seemed highly likely after what happened in the first two matches – there would hardly have been any interest in this week’s game.
Now both the teams have everything to play for. Also whether India will qualify for the World Test Championship final will add flavour to the contest with Australia already having clinched a berth.
Having said that one must add that there hasn’t been too much to savour in the three matches gone by. The surfaces at Nagpur, New Delhi and Indore have been the subject of much adverse comment and have turned out to be the real villains of the contest.
The Indore pitch has been rated as “poor’’ and the other two surfaces were hardly any better. It certainly isn’t cricket when the ball starts raising a puff of dust from the first over as the ICC match referee Chris Broad has noted in his report on the Indore pitch to the ICC.
“The ball continued to occasionally break the surface providing little or no seam movement and there was excessive and uneven bounce throughout the match’’ he has said.
Three successive Test matches ending inside three days is not an encouraging advertisement for the sport’s traditional format that is already fighting hard to stay relevant amidst the mushrooming of the T-20 game.
The ideal game of cricket should be an even contest between bat and ball and this can come about only on a true surface. It is not hard to provide such pitches and just the other day we had a humdinger of a Test between England and New Zealand that ended in a most exciting finish while going well into the fifth day.
Rohit Sharma while defending the nature of the surfaces has harped on the home advantage. “At home you must always play to your strength. Our strength is spin bowling. Other teams use home advantage when we travel overseas so what is wrong with us doing the same thing especially when we are getting results in our favour.’’
Rohit has a point borne out by India’s awesome record at home. The team has won 15 straight series at home and has lost just three Tests in the last decade – to Australia in 2017, to England in 2021 and now to Australia. Before the setback in Indore, India had won eight of their nine previous home Tests.
But then on such surfaces it can get to be a sort of lottery. The last time India lost a series at home in 2012 it was spinners Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann who helped shape that England triumph. And even when Australia went down in 2017 it was the spin duo of Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon who kept the visitors in the hunt with a bagful of wickets.
So India too can be vulnerable and chances are they could be hung by their own petard by opting for under prepared surfaces.
Such tactics could also have a telling factor on the batting.Till not very long ago Indian batsmen were regarded as the best players of spin bowling in the world. That is not the case anymore. In these dust bowls their confidence has been shattered and it has been seen how they have struggled against Lyon and two debutants Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann.
Batting has been our trump card for years but playing on such surfaces can only see a dip in their averages, Virat Kohli being a prime example. Indeed India's whole top order has gone through a rough time of late. Of the seven batsmen who have batted at least eight times in the top six in home Tests since the start of 2021, only two average over 40, four average 25 or below.
That is why it was startling to read the Indian captain’s comment that “frankly speaking these are the kind of pitches we want to play on because this is our strength.’’ It is not just a question of wanting to play on these surfaces but you have to play well. If you don’t do well this very strength could turn out to be a weakness as events at Indore underscored.
The Indian think tank must accept the fact that turning tracks can also leave them – not just their opponents – vulnerable to adverse results.
Amidst all the unsavoury aspects one must give credit to the Aussies. The visitors were badly outplayed in the first two Tests and seemed hardly in with a chance to avoid a 4-0 clean sweep let alone stage a comeback.
If there were problems on the field involving their skill, technique and temperament there were problems off it with the captain flying off to Australia owing to an illness in the family, established players going back and rookie replacements being flown in seemingly at random. It was hardly the kind of ambiance to recharge the team into fighting back.
But fight back they did with Steve Smith galvanising them into a cohesive unit. With a comprehensive win behind them it is clear that they will take on India on level terms at Ahmedabad. The pressure is now on India – in more ways than one.