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Friday, February 26, 2021

Explained: How will the Motera pitch influence the race to World Test Championship final?

India vs England: With the series locked 1-1, the third Test assumes crucial significance in deciding the fate of the rubber and the one remaining spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) final.

Written by Devendra Pandey , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 24, 2021 12:52:53 pm
The strip for a pink-ball Test usually has more grass to begin with than what is expected for a red-ball game. As per convention, 6mm of grass is left on the surface. (Express Photo)

With the series locked 1-1, the third India-England Test assumes crucial significance in deciding the fate of the rubber and the one remaining spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) final. The intrigue is heightened with it being a Day-Night encounter, to be played with a pink ball. As always, the 22 yards on which the contest will be staged will be an important factor.

How is a usual pitch for a pink-ball Test different from one for a red-ball match?

The strip for a pink-ball Test usually has more grass to begin with than what is expected for a red-ball game. As per convention, 6mm of grass is left on the surface. This is to ensure that the pink ball retains its shine for a reasonable period as otherwise, it will get scuffed up pretty quickly. The ball also has an extra coating of lacquer. These two factors often tilt the scales in favour of the seam and swing bowlers, especially during the twilight period, when natural light is fading away and the artificial lights haven’t taken full effect.

Will the Motera pitch be any different?

Yes. For starters, the convention regarding 6mm of grass covering has not been followed. This, in conjunction with the historical nature of the Motera pitch – a slow surface aiding spinners – means it is likely to be a turning track, regardless of the colour of the ball, the timings of the contest or the nature of the soil used for its preparation.

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What are the arguments offered for the departure from norm?

During the only previous Day-Night Test in India, against Bangladesh at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in 2019, the ball was skidding off the grassy surface making life difficult for batsmen in the evening session. Also, the seam on the ball was difficult to pick, and batsmen found it tough to judge which way the ball would deviate after pitching. It was argued that the conditions didn’t provide a fair contest between bat and ball.

What could be the underlying reasons?

The third Test is crucial not just for the series, but also for deciding who qualifies for the WTC final. A defeat in either of the two remaining Tests of the series will rule India out of the reckoning. The hosts need to win the series to make it to Lord’s against New Zealand. As India squared the series on a rank-turner in Chennai, the team management wants to optimise home advantage again, while nullifying England’s strengths.

How will the change influence the game?

In the only previous pink-ball Test on Indian soil, the home team’s pace bowlers accounted for all the Bangladesh wickets to fall. Things are expected to be a lot different in Ahmedabad though.

The nature of the surface – devoid of much grass – will aid Indian spinners, who have a much higher pedigree than their England counterparts. The visitors struggled to cope with the Indian tweakers in the second Test, and if the pink ball makes it difficult for their batsmen to judge which way the ball will deviate after pitching, it makes the tourists’ job even tougher. England’s strong pace attack will be nullified to a large extent, while the Indian seamers are more used to operating on grassless surfaces.

With hardly any grass cover and use of saliva on the ball prohibited due to Covid regulations, the pink ball is likely to lose shine quickly, nullifying conventional swing and seam. However, a rough ball and an abrasive surface may result in reverse swing coming into play pretty soon.

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