Once again the pre-match media was all about the preparation of the Indian pitch.
Despite some ominous predictions, Ahmedabad It provided the best batting surface of the series and opener Usman Khawaja capitalized on the determination to provide Australia a big first innings score.
India needed rigorous practice for the World Test Championship, so they got what they wanted. They will now have to rely on other favorable results to reach the final and play Australia at The Oval in June.
The pitch uproar has shown why it is troublesome when people other than the head curator or groundsman are allowed to have input into preparation.
The head curator or groundsman is the best person to prepare a presentable pitch. Like sportsmen, they are generally competitive and take great pride in their work. Good Test groundsmen all generally say that they want to prepare a pitch that gives everyone a chance to showcase their skills and gives results late on the last day.
The operative words are “results”. They don’t predict or barrack for a winner.
This is not happening in India, where some sloppy pitches are prepared, often at the behest of people other than the ground staff. A good head groundsman in Australia, when asked about specially prepared pitches, tells the questioner: “B***er off and mind your job.”
India are currently in the limelight for specially prepared pitches but they are far from the worst offenders. This aspect of Indian culture may well have developed under English colonialism.
I was told by former Australian cricketer and journalist Jack Fingleton in 1968, “Never trust the Poms.” I was sure he was referring to the administrators and not the players. His words proved prophetic in 1972 after Satanic Headingley “Fusarium Fiasco”, where a pitch was specially designed to negate the effect of Dennis Lillee’s pace and Bob Massey’s swing. Not coincidentally, for the first time in the series, England included left-arm spinner Derek Underwood, who was lethal on soft pitches. He claimed ten wickets in an emphatic England victory.
England had previous “form” in preparation for the particular pitch, in which Old Trafford in 1956, Offspinner in that one-sided affair Jim Laker took 19 wickets for Australia For just 90 runs in a fine English victory.
Don’t tell anyone that England is not among the leaders in specially prepared pitches.
Australia may be guilty of administrative failings but pitch-doctoring is not one of them. In general, the nature of an Australian first-class pitch is similar to that of its Test match counterpart.
In the current climate it is easy to wonder whether India have forgotten how they won their last two Test series in Australia. They completed two spectacular upsets by playing good all-round cricket on correct, bouncy pitches.
India may have underestimated this Australian team. They are not the best Australian team to tour India, but they are a good fighting unit with some solid batsmen and frontline spinners. Crucially, he has shown a willingness to attack – albeit sometimes recklessly – at crucial times. They are finalists in the World Test Championship, but this important competition has exposed a weakness in the system.
There can be a range of bowler friendly pitches which can result in short games with results. current indian coach Rahul Dravid made a sensible observation: “It’s really about being realistic about what it takes to do well on some of the challenging wickets we’re playing on,” he said. “If you look at the last three-four years, I think wickets have become much more challenging all over the world,”
Dravid’s wise words highlight the vast difference between flat white-ball pitches that punish batsmen and spicy Test surfaces that make batting aggression difficult.
The gulf between the two extremes needs to be bridged so that England’s admirable aggression in Test cricket doesn’t go to waste. Test cricket is an endangered species and any feasible help is welcome.