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Friday, February 26, 2021

Surface tension: Chepauk pitch for 2nd Test may have more bounce and carry

According to a member of the ground staff, the surface is expected to have more bounce and carry. So initially at least, pacers might get more purchase from the deck, while spinners could enjoy the bounce. But in all likelihood, it’s not going to be a rank turner.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: February 11, 2021 8:33:53 am

The red soil proved to be a let-down for the Indian team. Virat Kohli and Co will hope that black soil is friendlier. The first Test between against England was played on Pitch No.2 at Chepauk. A Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) functionary informed that Pitch No. 5 is likely to be the preferred 22 yards for the second Test starting on Saturday. Pitch No. 2 had red soil topping. The top layer of Pitch No. 5 is made of clay soil or black soil.

“On the first two days, the pitch was not assisting us and the spinners, it felt like we played on a road,” Ishant Sharma told the official broadcaster at the end of the fourth day’s play in the first Test.

There was evident frustration in the home camp when Joe Root and Dom Sibley were wearing down the Indian bowlers on the first day. There was an occasion when Root outside-edged an Ishant delivery, but the ball didn’t carry to first slip. Rohit Sharma decided to move forward a few paces and stood in front of the wicketkeeper, but the ball beating the bat was a rarity on the first two days of the series opener.

Will the pitch for the second Test behave the same way? Unlikely.

A bit more life

According to a member of the ground staff, the surface is expected to have more bounce and carry. So initially at least, pacers might get more purchase from the deck, while spinners could enjoy the bounce. But in all likelihood, it’s not going to be a rank turner.

It does matter if the soil used is red or black. A veteran curator who worked for the BCCI elaborated on the difference. “Bonding strength of red soil particles is more high-strung than its black or clay counterpart, the reason why red soil disintegrates faster. Pitches with red soil toppings deteriorate quicker,” he said.

Ravichandran Ashwin’s delivery that castled Jofra Archer in England’s second innings attested how the Chepauk pitch for the first Test changed as the game progressed. Ashwin had bowled a fast off-break that fizzed in a long way from outside off-stump. Later in the day, England spinner Jack Leach cleaned up Rohit Sharma, bowling with the new ball – the delivery pitching on middle stump and spinning past Rohit’s bat to hit off.

Virat Kohli, IND vs ENG, Jack LEach, Ben Stokes, India lost to England, England beat India, ENG vs IND, ENG win 1st test Indian skipper Virat Kohli was cleaned up by Ben Stokes on Day 5 of the 1st Test. (BCCI)

Former BCCI chief curator Daljit Singh described the pitch for the first Test as “an excellent Test match wicket that would have been even better (from the bowlers’ perspective) with a bit more grass on it”.

Coming back to red-versus-black comparisons, the clay soil retains moisture for a longer period, which prevents the top soil from loosening quicker. “It’s almost impossible to make rank turners with black/clay soil toppings. If you use the brush to shave off the grass completely or leave them very dry, chances are that it could be an underprepared surface,” said another former BCCI curator.

Singh begged to differ. “You can still prepare a turner with black soil but it needs finest curatorship,” he said. Some grass on pitches made of clay soil assist fast bowlers, especially with the new ball. Also, it helps bind the top surface. But it needs to be seen how much grass is comfortable for the Indian team management. India are now playing catch-up in this series, with qualification for the ICC World Test Championship final at stake. The pitch will be an important factor in the remaining three Tests.

The centre square at Chepauk has eight pitches, one with red soil topping, one of mixed variety and the rest offering significant clay content. All of them, however, have red soil base. The man in charge of pitch preparation, V Ramesh Kumar, this paper understands, is unlikely to roll out a dust bowl.

Good track record

Traditionally, Chepauk lays out good cricket pitches for Test cricket. In 2016, the fifth Test at this venue went the distance, with India winning on the final day. England had posted 477 in their first innings and India responded with 759/9 declared, thanks to Karun Nair’s 303 not out. Even in the second innings, England batted for 88 overs although they suffered an innings defeat.

IND vs ENg, James Anderson James Anderson’s reverse swing had sent Gill and Rahane’s off-stumps cart-wheeling. (Screengrab)

“Interesting how a lot of people have spoken about toss being a vital factor in England winning (first Test). I have to agree. After playing on this ground for ages, its (sic) almost impossible to doctor a wicket suitable for all. Have a look at the Ranji scores if you dont (sic) believe me,” former India opener and Tamil Nadu batsman Abhinav Mukund tweeted on Tuesday.

Unless there’s an eleventh-hour change, bowlers are not going to get freebies in the second Test either, for the first two-three days to be precise.

Covid regulations

Chepauk is ready to welcome 14,000 fans for the second Test, informed TNCA secretary RS Ramasaamy. They will not be allowed to carry anything inside the stadium except mobile phones.

“There are 17 entrances to the stadium. All the gates will be manned by people to check temperature, to make sure everybody is wearing a mask, and hand sanitisers will be available. Seats will be placed in such a way that there will be at least one seat between two spectators. Medical kiosks will be there around the ground. There will be a medical room with a doctor. There will be an isolation room, in case somebody is detected with temperature or any other symptoms. The bio-bubble area will be completely cordoned off,” Ramasaamy told The Indian Express.

The TNCA has sold tickets for nine blocks, with ticket prices ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 450 per day. A TNCA official confirmed that the decision to restrict banners, placards and other items inside the ground has nothing to do with the ongoing farmers’ protest. The state association is confident of hosting a non-controversial second Test.

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