EVEN as the Indian team has gone on an overdrive trying to defend the Nagpur pitch with a passion, the ICC has come down strongly on the rabble-rousing 22-yard strip that was offer for the South Africans in the third Test, calling it ‘poor’.
The announcement comes on the back of the report submitted by match-referee Jeff Crowe in which he expressed the ‘concerns of the match officials over the performance of the pitch’. The BCCI now have 14 days to respond to the report following which two senior ICC officials, Geoff Allardice and Ranjan Madugalle, will decide whether to agree with Crowe’s rating for the pitch-which could result in a $15,000 fine-or not.
The ‘poor’ rating comes on the back of a week of strong defences put forth by a number of key members from the Indian team for the pitch on which they overwhelmed the Proteas and took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the Test series.
While team director Ravi Shastri has been insistent that there was ‘nothing wrong with it’ and even asked for a similar track for the fourth Test in Delhi, others like captain Virat Kohli and man-of-the-match R Ashwin have been vocal in their support for the pitch.
“What’s the problem with spin and bounce? It is good, even spin and bounce, isn’t it? It is about skill for batsmen to play it and counter it,” said Ashwin, after finishing with a 12-wicket match haul, which included his best-ever innings figures of 7/66.
For the record, the Nagpur Test finished within three days-which made it the fifth straight Test on Indian soil to not reach Day Four-with the Indian spinners snaring all 20 wickets. And there were enough examples of the pitch misbehaving for eyebrows to remain raised even as South Africa collapsed to 79 all out in their first innings, the lowest score ever against India in Test cricket.
There was a grave concern about how the pitch would fare even before the match even began. Sunil Gavaskar had jokingly suggested that the pitch needed cold cream to cover up its ‘wrinkles’ during his pitch report before play started on the first day. From that point on, a number of experts on television had insisted on having not seen a wicket of this nature. The pitch also caused a huge furore with numerous ex-cricketers from around the world taking an interest in it. It came in for extreme critcism even from former Indian cricketers with Bishen Singh Bedi leading the charge with scathing condemnation. This was also the first Test in India, a land considered very fertile for run-scoring generally, where no batsman even a scored a half-century.
The pitch debate had in fact commenced during the first Test in Mohali itself, with India’s spin triumvirate of Ravindra Jadeja, Ashwin and Amit Mishra ruling the roost and polishing off Hashim Amla & Co in both their innings. Just like in Nagpur, even the Indian batsmen never quite came to the party and struggled equally.
Daljit Singh, the BCCI’s chief curator, who has been tending to pitches at Mohali from the word go had called it an ‘ageing track’ but never felt that it would turn into the square-turner that it proved to be.
“The skills of the game should come on display, whether it is fast bowling, spin or bat. So we are hoping that it turns out to be a sporting track as there is prediction of rain as well on one of the days,” he had said on the eve of the Test.
As it turned out, the batsmen never really seemed to get a fair chance to display their skills to any great extent.
Kohli, meanwhile, has tried to dismiss the hype around the pitches ever since India took a lead in the Mohali Test. And he stuck with it even as they ended South Africa’s proud unbeaten streak away from home that stretched to more than nine years before crumbling in Nagpur.
“I have said this before, wherever you go to play in the world, you’ve got to be prepared to face those conditions and tune your game accordingly. I don’t know why is there so much hype created around the issue,” he said. Even though match-referee Crowe might have felt that the pitch was ‘poor’, the South Africans have more or less taken the pitches on offer in their stride. Or so it seems based on their rather demure responses whenever asked about the pitch.
Skipper Amla had said that he expected the Jamtha track to be the kind of wicket you expect in India a day prior to the match. But as he sat humbled and defeated on the third afternoon in Nagpur, he said, “The surface was probably the toughest that I have had and the cricket itself was really difficult.”
Coach Russell Domingo almost sounded Indian when he refused to be dragged into the pitch-bashing bandwagon and preferred to credit Ashwin & Co for outdoing his batsmen.“You’ve got to give India credit. They have prepared wickets that suit their style of play.We’re not going to criticise the pitch right now,” he had said.
With the Delhi Test just a day away, Mishra felt that the pitch debate had overshadowed the impact that he and his spin colleagues have had on the series.
“Yes, we have not been given due credit with so much talk about the pitch. Our achievements should have been highlighted more and talked about. Our home conditions have been like this for last 15 years and it is not from today.,” he said.
But with the governing body itself having expressed their immense dissatisfaction with the Nagpur wicket, it remains to be seen if the Indian team continues to defend their citadel with the same adamance.