Did turning tracks did the trick for India

The flat pitches had made life difficult for SA batsmen right from Day 1

In January this year, batting against the West Indies in Johannesburg, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers needed just 31 deliveries to blast his way to the world’s fastest ODI century. Fast forward 12 months and here he was, defending yet another delivery as he tried his best to salvage a Test match against India in New Delhi.

Having been bundled for a measly 121 in the first innings, the Proteas were determined to stick on longer in their second attempt and see out the fourth and fifth days. At Stumps on Day 4, South Africa were 72/2 in 72 overs. That is one  run per over which in this day and age is very slow even in Test cricket. De Villiers finished with 43 runs from 297 balls and while one might argue that’s how Test cricket is meant to be played, that’s definitely not how the South African skipper plays cricket, even Test cricket for that matter.

But he had no choice. India had wrapped up the first and third Test matches, in Mohali and Nagpur respectively, in three days flat. The second Test in Bangalore might have followed a similar script had it not been washed off. Staring at impending defeat, de Villiers and Hashim Amla tried their best to defend their way to a draw but to no avail. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were magnificent with the ball, but it wasn’t just them. The flat pitches had made life difficult for batsmen right from Day 1. Which brings up the million dollar question: why prepare rank turners and make the game so blatantly one sided? What’s the point of winning if the conditions are skewed in your favour?

Virat Kohli became very defensive when he was asked that question: “There have been three scores of under-50 in Tests in South Africa. I haven’t seen any articles about that. It is an assessment that has happened in every condition, in every ground. Unfortunately, in our country and in our situation, it is highlighted a lot more. That’s a fact. Because all we have been talking about is the pitch.”

“In South Africa, the only thing we were talking about is how badly we were playing. So it’s been going on for a while. There’s no change in pattern. The Indian team is going into a new mindset. Apart from that, the thinking of the rest around it has not changed too much. Because we are criticised about our games and techniques when we don’t play well but when visitors don’t play well, it’s always the wicket,” continued the Indian skipper.

Ashwin was asked the same question in the aftermath of the Nagpur Test where SA had slumped from 12/5 to 79 all out in under 33.1 overs. The off-spinner brought up the Ashes Test played a couple of months ago in Nottingham where Stuart Broad had torn through the Australian batting who were wrapped up for a mere 60 in 18.3 overs.

“What’s the difference,” Ashwin asked. In Nottingham, it was swing and bounce, In Nagpur, it was turn and bounce. In both situations, the bowlers had the upper hand and the hosts had the edge. So why blame it on Indian pitches?

For starters, the thing about a seaming pitch is that it gets better to bat on. While the swing may be inward or outward the pace and turn can be expected. Meanwhile, on a turning track, the ball may go away from the batsman or towards him but it needn’t necessarily happen. The ball might not turn at all. Bounce is not guaranteed either. And as the match grows older, the pitch worsens. Cracks start appearing and it only gets tougher for the batsmen.

But that’s the whole point of home advantage, isn’t it? Getting tracks made to suit your strengths? Amit Mishra championed for the cause. “We also get seaming pitches when we go out of India. We also adjust. We don’t complain. They need to adjust.”

And we must admit he has a point there. After all, what’s the point of playing at home if there’s no home advantage?