Last week, a good five days before the Test, BCCI’s veteran pitch curator Dhiraj Parsana sat beyond the boundary ropes, sheltered from the harsh noon sun by the shade of the towering pavilion block. For years, he has been in charge of the Motera track in neighbouring Ahmedabad. He isn’t new to Rajkot, it’s his birthplace. Now, it’s where he prepared the pitch for the city’s first Test.
An affable man, he is not known to toe the line. In the past, he has had differences of opinion with Indian captains about the interpretation of the phrase ‘home advantage’. In his long career, the no-nonsense man has disagreed with skippers — Sourav Ganguly for one, Anil Kumble, the present coach, is another.
This was a special occasion for the 68-year-old. He was chuffed about the local association’s plans to felicitate him on the first day of the Test. Before the players stepped on to the pitch he had prepared, Parsana was to get a shawl and a sparkling memento. A ’70s star around here, the all-rounder played for Saurashtra and India. When asked about the nature of the surface he had prepared for this ‘special’ game, Parsana wasn’t giving away much. Later during the conversation, he did drop a hint. “I am almost 70 now, I don’t want to go to sleep at night with the guilt of preparing a dubious track,” he said.
The Test is over, Parsana can sleep peacefully. The pitch had also been asleep for most of the Test. For the last couple of days, there was slow turn, with the odd ball keeping low or suddenly climbing up. A couple of Indian batsmen got out to balls that kept low. In the last hour, there were times when India seemed on the back foot, struggling to eke out a draw.
Kohli wasn’t complaining. Though he did say that he didn’t expect the early greenish tinge on the pitch. “I was quite surprised to see that much grass, to be honest. It should not have been the case,” he said. He also dropped hints that there was no devil in the track even when he was batting in the final moments of the Test.
“Sometimes, the situation becomes such that even on flat wickets, you tend to make mistakes. I spent decent time out there and it is because we lost four-five wickets that it looks like it’s going to rip through from a good-length area. That was not the case. The wicket was pretty decent throughout the game,” he said.
Six tons, 1200-plus runs
In years to come, even if someone takes a look at the scoreboard, it would be easy to guess the nature of this surface. Six centuries, 1,200 plus runs. This certainly wasn’t the kind of track that saw Saurashtra’s left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja take 38 wickets from four games in this town last year (albeit at two venues, SCA Stadium and Madhavrao Scindia Ground), with most of those Ranji Trophy matches not going the distance. Here Jadeja, after bowling 45 overs, got just three wickets. The Indian spinners would have certainly liked a more spin-friendly surface.
A true surface has never been to Jadeja’s liking. Over the last one year, the ‘flat and fast’ left-armer has been very effective with the new ball. On his home ground, in the Ranji Trophy, he is unplayable with the shinning cherry. The left-arm spinner banks on the roughs on the surface to get his wickets. The reason Jadeja is deadly with the new ball is because he is unpredictable. It is said that at times even Jadeja doesn’t know which way his ball will turn since it’s the cracks that decide the direction of the deliveries.
Speaking after Day 3, Jadeja had said that the position of the cracks on the surface were not to his liking. They were on the two sides of the stumps. “The middle portion has remained the same. Yesterday and today, the fast bowlers had some help but over the next few days the wicket will become slower,” he had said. During the New Zealand series, Jadeja bowled stump-to-stump and got wickets. Here on an unresponsive and true track, he wasn’t getting the same purchase.
On the other hand, as Alastair Cook said, the English spinners are better bowlers on flat tracks. It feels like home to them. In England, the tracks are green and get less abrasive, so the slow bowlers have to work harder for wickets.
“A brilliant performance all-round, especially our three spinners who came in for criticism on turning wickets. On a flatter wicket, they bowled a lot better. Great to have Saqqy (Saqlain Mushtaq) here. Made a big difference to those guys,” he said.
England off-spinner Moeen Ali had called the pitch a ‘belter’ after the second day’s play. Cook, after the drawn Test, said, “It was a cracking pitch”. Not many visiting players use these words to describe the dustbowls they get.
So did the Indians get what they wanted, or what they expected? That will never be clear. Who has the final say in deciding the nature of the pitch has always been a mystery.
Some clues may help. Before the Test, the Saurashtra Cricket Association members had expressed a desire for the ‘special’ Test to go the distance. They expected the weekend crowd to make the game memorable. Saurashtra Cricket Association secretary Niranjan Shah said, “Test matches need to be a five-day affair.”
Before play commenced on the final day, all three results were possible. Even till the final hour, there were a couple of possibilities. That’s the reason there have been no complaints. But there will always be one question: did the local sentiment negate India’s home advantage?