Discussion On Pitches Overshadows Performances
On these surfaces neither batsmen, nor bowlers can be truly satisfied
From the beginning to the end it was the surfaces that drew most attention. Whether it was the turning tracks at Nagpur, New Delhi or Indore or the placid track at Ahmedabad the pitches were the subject of much focus in the just concluded India – Australia series. That was a pity for a match-up between the two top teams in the game should be more about the performances on the field.
Indeed there was much to savour as only to be expected when the players involved are a couple of all time greats, and some modern greats. Batsmen and bowlers both performed admirably considering the overall circumstances.
Most hearteningly there was much good cricket provided by the younger players of both sides. And somehow the sides were so evenly matched that the final result, 2-1 in India’s favour, was closer than it sounds. It, however, gave India the opportunity to close out another series victory at home. And most significantly it was the fourth straight triumph against Australia, two at home and two away. This is a record that India will be particularly proud of.
It is no fun if a surface is loaded heavily in favour of the bowlers or the batsmen and in this series we had examples of both. The bowlers had the batsmen hopping and dancing about in the first three Tests all of which were over inside three days but the batsmen had their revenge on a highway of a track at Ahmedabad.
And if the proceedings in the final Test turned out to be quite boring as a contest the proceedings in the first three matches did little credit to the game. Test cricket turned out to be the loser particularly as around the same time cricket followers were witness to two absorbing contests in New Zealand with both ended in exciting results with the matches going well into the fifth day.
These games also involving England and Sri Lanka were the perfect advertisement for Test cricket at a time when the beleaguered traditional format is said to be dying. But Test cricket will never die as long as there are such matches.
The much hyped series between India and Australia, however, was not exactly the right kind of advertisement for Test cricket and this was mainly because of the surfaces.
Having won the first two Tests on under-prepared tracks and then losing the third on another similar surface it was always on the cards that India would not risk playing the Ahmedabad game on a turner. They realised that such a strategy could well boomerang and adopting a once bitten twice shy approach they were happy to play out a rather dull draw in a batsmen dominated game.
The point is that on these surfaces neither the batsmen nor the bowlers can be truly satisfied with their performances. They are aware that they have an ally in the pitch and much of the credit for any good showing will go to the surface. Under the circumstances it can be said that Rohit Sharma’s 120 at Nagpur and Ashwin’s six for 91 at Ahmedabad were really stand-out performances.
To get a hundred on that surface, 29 more than what Australia got in their second innings, should rank as one of the Indian captain’s best knocks. And for all his several match winning spells in Test cricket one would like to think that Ashwin would rank his bowling at Ahmedabad very highly given that the wicket did not help him at all. It was simply a triumph for his skill, art and craft, besides patience and perseverance.
The gains for India were many. Ashwin and Jadeja reaffirmed their status as India’s biggest match winners with the ball. Ashwin took 25 wickets, Jadeja 22 and in their own different ways constitute arguably India’s best ever spin duo.
Given their success there was little that Axar Patel could do though he did pull in his weight with the bat. Heading the averages was a big feather in his cap given India’s batting line-up. Shubman Gill gave enough indication that he could well be the next big thing in Indian cricket.
On the negative side there was KS Bharath’s wicket keeping and it is clear that the team is missing Rishabh Pant. The series could also have seen the last of KL Rahul in the Test squad.
While they may be unhappy about losing the series there was much to savour for Australia too. To be candid at the halfway mark they had little going for them. The captain had gone home to be with his ailing mother who later passed away.
Established players went back home and replacements were being flown in rather haphazardly one thought. The pitches meant that their pace attack and their main weapon was blunted.
But under Steve Smith they somehow regrouped, won a Test and drew the other and the end result was something that hardly seemed possible at the end of the second Test. For this main credit should go to Nathan Lyon who bowled his heart out and provided the inspiration to his younger teammates Todd Murphy and Mathew Kuhnemann to perform above expectations.
On the kind of pitches laid out the wings of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins were clipped. The batting was generally at the receiving end but came good at Ahmedabad giving indications that they could really have been among the runs on truer surfaces.
All the same while Usman Khawaja rose to the occasion more was expected from their two best batsmen Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith and in the ultimate analysis their inability to get going might have cost Australia the series though the visitors might believe that the second innings collapse at New Delhi was responsible.