The second Test in Chennai between India and England has divided opinions about what constitutes a good pitch. Some experts, mostly the former English cricketers, called the strip used for the 2nd Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai poor, while for others it was a challenging one, where only the best could survive. Was it an ideal pitch? Maybe not, but what’s an ideal pitch anyway? If England host a Test series, they play to their strengthens and prepare a seaming wicket, Australia aim at track with bounce and zip while New Zealand pitches are always without exception green tops.
No one really complains about those pitches, but have a sub-continent pitch with a bit of turn, and everyone loses their mind. After a placid Chepauk track yielded a favourable result for England in the first Test, after they won the toss and dominated India throughout, all was well. But when a different-looking strip was prepared as India to mount a comeback in the series, the complaining started.
Usually, the pitch at the MA Chidambaram Stadium is considered a bowler’s pitch and during the first two Test matches, the pitch lived up to these expectations. Pitch in the first Test: The track suited the batsmen with one century and seven half centuries being scored. Spinners did have their say and took 24 wickets, while fast bowlers manage 16. England won the match on the fifth day.
Pitch in the second Test: In the four days that the match lasted, a total of two centuries and three half-centuries were hit. Of the 40 wickets to fall, 32 were picked by spinners while fast bowlers managed 7.
Former England captain and noted commentator, Michael Vaughan, was critical of the pitch that turned from the first day itself, but the fact of the matter remains - as England captain Joe Root also mentioned later - England bowlers were not as accurate and tight as they would have liked on Day 1 of the second Test after losing the toss and, expectedly, India took advantage. Rohit Sharma hit a sublime 161, Ajinkya Rahane contributed 67, and Rishabh Pant made a free-flowing 58 runs and showed how it is done on this pitch. India played 95.5 overs in the first innings scoring 329 runs.
England, on the other hand, were shot down for 134 in the first inning, and concede the game there itself. And amidst the chorus of the Chennai pitch being unsuitable to play, Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar shot back and asked why the pitch which helps fast bowlers are never being talked about in the same vein as turning tracks. Whenever Team India visits England, Australia and New Zealand and gets rogered, the technique of the batsman is questioned and nobody talks about the quality of the pitch.
Often the pitches in New Zealand have so much grass on it that if you leave a cow on it, it can have a bellyful of grass. England and Australia have always favoured such pitches historically. In New Zealand, matches are over in merely three days and more often than not are dominated by pacers. But those are generally termed as sporting tracks and seldom attract the criticism similar to that what has been said about the Chennai track lately.
The matches played in New Zealand during February-March 2020 during India-New Zealand Test series, 89% wickets went to fast bowlers and nobody raised a question then. If spinners get 80% wickets in India, that creates a storm. During the first Test series after the pandemic stuck, England hosted against West Indies and won the series 2-1. Out of the 100 wickets that fell, 83 were taken by fast bowlers. With conditions suited for seaming bowling and green tracks on offer, no one really bothered to term those pitches as unplayable.
Australian pitches in general have good bounce, but tend to be flat assisting batsmen on moving days (Day 2 and 3). At Brisbane, where India won the historic Test match earlier this year to seal back-to-back series in down under, nobody gave the visitors the chance to chase down the target on the final day. Yet, India made 300 runs on the last day. The pitches there were neither overly helping fast bowlers on the first day nor was it a minefield on the last day. Every day, the match changed its complexion with bowlers having their say more than the batsmen. This meant that bowlers were getting help from the pitch. But it was never said that this pitch was assisting any bowler.
The pitch at Chennai is not bad, but it’s challenging and that is its beauty. The Chepauk track used for the 2nd Test may not be an ideal Test match pitch, but it sure was a challenging one. Yes, the result came early, but every session was entertaining to watch and every run scored by the batsmen was worth its weight in gold. Both spinners and fast bowlers managed to take wickets and there was something in it for the batsmen also if they were patient enough to assess the conditions and play on the merit of the ball - as was evident from the knocks of Sharma, Rahane, Kohli and later on R Ashwin. For England, Ben Foakes managed to do that in the first innings, but the rest of the batsmen succumbed to the superior skill of the Indian spinners, rather than the perceived demons in the pitch.
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