Pitch saga: The blame game
While the recent series of Test matches between India and South Africa have been entertaining to the Indian supporters, a lot of questions have been raised over the quality of the pitches on which the aforementioned matches have been played. There have been allegations against the curators that they have been making pitches which are unworthy to be played on with the home team having a distinct advantage. Browsing through the history of the sports, it can be safely said that the allegations of the home team having an advantage over the visiting team are nothing to cry foul on about. In the past, we have seen pitches in Australia and South Africa which benefits the home team players. It’s neither unethical nor illegal. To blame the pitch for the shortcomings of the modern breed of batsmen is nothing but clutching at straws when all excuses have run out. Gone are the days when Test players had a different mentality while playing the game. With the advent of T20, everything changed. In order to evolve with the fast paced lifestyle, cricket also had to evolve, change and adapt which have had a very adverse effect on Test cricket. The recent furore over the pitches seems to be just a cover up for the main underlying problem of the modern batsmen who don’t seem to have the same Test playing mentality which their predecessors had.
The first thought that springs to every team’s mind while playing in Indian soil are that the pitches will have a lot of turns in them. That has happened since day one because of the simple reason that Indian bowlers are more comfortable playing in these conditions just like Australia is totally at home on wickets which give an edge to their fast bowlers. It’s only logical that the home team will wield some semblance of home field advantage and this tradition has been continuing for ages. But, it’s not like spinning wickets have been so much of a problem with the visiting teams of old. Spinners like Richie Benaud and Ashley Mallett to Lance Gibbs and Derek Underwood, and more recently Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann have all held their own in Indian soil, sometimes, even outshining the hosts’ spinners on a number of occasions. Thus, the pitch having such an adverse effect on the batsmen which resulted in two Tests delivering results in three days stands little ground. Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the batting techniques and the mentality of the players who are chosen to represent their countries in national colours.
The pitches during the series have been spinners’ paradise with the first and third Tests at Mohali and Nagpur respectively being decided within three days. Even the second Test in Bengaluru saw 12 wickets fall on the opening day before heavy rain forced the match to be abandoned.
The tracks in Mohali or Nagpur did not have voodoo in them. They were just prepared for the home team to have a slight advantage. Pitches like these require a patient approach which most batsmen nowadays seem to lack. If they had just been patient and persistent the spin on the pitch would have worn out and ultimately it would have become the ally of the batsmen but patient in Test cricket is a lost virtue nowadays. In this age of blockbuster cricket where the batsmen, as well as the majority of spectators, want the ball to be hit into the stands from the word go, it’s no surprise that the pitch has become enemy number one to them. T20 format has accustomed them to such a habit of frantically paced games that when they play Tests they more often than not look like fishes out of the water.
No-one expects tracks in seamer-friendly England to be like the pace-friendly ones in Australia or South Africa. Cricket’s – in fact, any sport’s – charm lies in the variety and range of its settings. Conditions change, challenges differ and overcoming the opposition by conquering the conditions is the essence of the game. Uniformity of pitches, grounds, weather is neither possible nor desirable.With the batting techniques being tested, the South Africans, as well as Indians, who presumably should have been the happier lot, have also displayed the same lack of technique. The shorter formats have formalised the habit of hitting your way out of trouble while Test cricket demands greater discipline and more respect for the essentials of batsmanship which was made as clear as day in all the three Tests played in the series.
There was a lot of turn in the wickets, but the low scores were more due to lack of technique from the South African batsmen as mentioned above. Many of the dismissals were due to the poor judgement of edges resulting from a lack of proper application. Visiting teams have to adjust to the conditions of the country they are playing in same as when India travel outside the sub-continent and adjust to the pace and bounce of the pitches there. At the end of the day, it’s all about technique and adaptability.
With the pitch being described as the spoilsport, a lot of credit has been taken away from the Indian spinners who have performed marvellously in the series, claiming 47 out of 50 South African wickets. Amit Mishra, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are in the forms of their lives and have completely dismantled the South African batting line-up which has failed to find its feet in the series thus far.
With ICC recently branding the Nagpur Test pitch as “poor” Indian skipper, Virat Kohli did make some valid claims stating that that pitches in South Africa also favour the bowlers, with visiting teams to that country being dismissed for less than 100 runs on six occasions. He also pointed out that the first ever pink ball Test between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide recently was dominated by the pacers with the former winning the game on the third day and stating that whenever it comes to India, the pitches are blamed and the commitment and the abilities of the Indian players are overshadowed.
With T20s gaining in popularity and cricketers being drawn to the glitz, glamour and big bucks of the IPL, their Test cricket performance have been put under the scanner and the results don’t look good. Shots which are not even in the cricket dictionaries are being played in the T20s in order to chase runs.
With more emphasis on big hitting shots, the techniques and the grace of persistent batting in Test cricket matches are slowly fading away.