To a musician, it means ‘the degree of highness or lowness of a tone’. To a physicist, it means ‘steepness of a slope’. To a baseball fan, it means ‘throw’. To a non-cricket fan watching cricket, it means the area on which the sport is played. To a cricket fan, it means something else altogether.
I’m talking, of course, about the pitch. I remember watching cricket with a friend who knew nothing about the game. He seemed pretty confused that the match started with a “Pitch Report”! I don’t believe any other sport does this, but for those of us who have been following cricket all our lives, we can’t fathom a match without a pitch report. Squad composition, set a target or chase, field placements, they all depend on the pitch.
A typical Indian pitch is known to crumble easily; it favours the batsmen early on, and by day 3 is a spinner’s paradise. It’s part of the reason the Ashwin-Jadeja combination has been lethal at home in the past 2 years. We have previously defended pitches which turn earlier than day 3. Rajkot was something else.
Losing the toss on a grassy pitch to an England side filled with determination to prove that their performance in Bangladesh was an anomaly, India had to battle their way to a draw in the first test. Our 5-0 prediction needs revision but surely India have missed a trick here? Producing a ragged track would have put an under-confident England under the pump and would have set the tone for the series. Instead, England will take great heart from their performance at Rajkot. Things could not have started any better for them. A confident England is a dangerous side. Kohli knows this and has already publicly expressed his dismay at the Rajkot pitch.
Now all eyes will be on the curators at Vizag. The Andhra Cricket Association has promised a “neutral” pitch, but everyone in India is hoping for a rank turner. Historically, Vizag has never hosted a Test match before and its reputation is that of being a batsman’s paradise. Expectations will be high from Ashwin who has set an incredibly high bar from himself. I am sure he did not enjoy seeing three centurions in one innings from the opposition. The last match he played at Vizag brought him figures of 4-1-8-4, delivering a 9-wicket win in a T20 against Sri Lanka. He will be hoping to draw on those good memories after a forgettable first test.
England will be loathe to tinker with their side ahead of the 2nd Test; all their batsmen except Duckett came good, four of them making centuries and Hameed an impressive 82. Each bowler played his part as well and the spinners, especially Rashid, have exceeded expectations. India, on the other hand, are certain to make at least one change, bringing back the in-form KL Rahul for Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir has been unable to capitalize on his test return, averaging just 27 over the 4 innings he has played, including a high score of 50 as well as a duck – not a great return for a batsman with a career test average of nearly 42.
The question for India will be around their bowling line-up. After a mediocre first innings, Mishra picked up 2 second innings wickets but was expensive, giving 4.32 runs an over in the match. Former Captain Ganguly has been pushing for the inclusion of Ishant at the expense of a very average Umesh, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
No matter who makes the final XI, after a surprising first test, the second test match in the five match series begins tomorrow. The big question on everyone’s mind – will the pitch turn?
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