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India vs New Zealand: Not a rank turner, nor flat, Kanpur pitch passes test

Winter season and river nearby reasons for wicket lasting five days, according to Kaif

Written by Sandip G | Kanpur |
Updated: November 29, 2021 8:06:16 am
India New Zealand CricketIndia and New Zealand in action on Day 4 in Kanpur. (AP Photo)

After they had diligently piled layer after layer of multicoloured, wedding shamiana-like covers on the pitch after the fourth day’s play, a groundsman was overheard telling another in a depressing tone: “Aur ek din bhai (one more day, brother).” As if he had planned an off day on Monday. The other one replied, brusquely: “To kya, achcha match hain na? Poora paanch din chalega, Bharat jeetega bhi! (So what, isn’t it a good match? Going full five days, India will win too)”

In a sense, the Green Park pitch had exceeded the longevity some of its ground-staff had anticipated, despite pre-match whispers that the match would not last five days and would deteriorate fiendishly, as some of the recent decks for Test matches in the country. But then Green Park pitches rarely crack up dangerously, rather they break up insidiously, progressively getting slower and lower.

But as is often the case, it has been a case of stereotyping. One made-to-order turner 13 years ago — the instant reaction to a galling defeat — sufficed for notoriety. In three Test matches since, it has reverted to type — slow, low turners, a litmus test of patience, for batsmen, bowlers, fielders and the audience. Games here slow-burn, like the Awadhi cuisine that relies on stewing in slow fire. The cuisine, like four days of the Test has thrown up, is delicious.

The talk of a turner was conjecture. The team management hadn’t demanded one from the weightlifter-turned-electrician-turned-curator Shiv Kumar, in a break from the usual. The curator was not inclined to dish out one to please the management either. Maybe, it was New Zealand coach Gary Stead’s early (mis)judgement of the pitch that sparked the whispers.

Moreover, a turner here, in early winter, is near impossible, even if one had tried. Dig into Mohammad Kaif’s local knowhow. Kaif, who has spent most of his cricketing life plying for Uttar Pradesh, wrote on Twitter: “Having spent so many years at Green Park, I can say it’s difficult to prepare a rank turner here in winters. And with Ganga flowing not too far and temperature low, the pitch doesn’t crumble. Baat maano bada time spent kiya hai is ground pe. This is my second home.” The match that gave Green Park the stigma was hosted in summer, in mid-April, when temperatures hover in the mid-to-late 30s.

Kaif wants his favourite ground to be de-stigmatised and points out to the ongoing match as a redeeming factor. “Thanks to the curator, this Kanpur Test is interestingly poised. There’s something for pacers and spinners plus batsmen too will get runs if they stick around. It’s Day 4 and still it is anybody’s game,” he wrote.

Something for each one

He was not exaggerating — there was some assistance for everyone, or not too much lop-sided advantage for one particular breed. The seamers nibbled the ball around in the first hour, maximising the moisture content left over by the overnight dew, besides relying on their skills. The spinners bargained some turn as the game progressed, batsmen realised that once they entrench in the wicket, it becomes comfortable for batting. Neither runs nor wickets could be purchased in a flurry — it was not buy-one-get-three dustbowl, it was neither a get-your-eye-in-and-plunder-runs paata either. Rather, the pitch called for archaic Test match values of grit and graft, wait and watch. And endearingly, both teams adjusted seamlessly to its demands. It was a challenging pitch, but not a vicious one. The challenges it threw up were unique, enriching the diversity of Test cricket.

The conditions undoubtedly favoured the hosts, but were not menacingly hostile to the visitors. Even at the fag end of the fourth day, it was not a difficult wicket to bat on. The ball didn’t kick or kink off the surface, it scarcely bounced differently from the same spot, so as to threaten the wicket or face of a batsman. When it landed on certain spots, it did keep low, but the lack of pace meant that batsmen had time to adjust. At the same time, it was difficult playing through the line, hanging on the back-foot and forcing shots on the rise. Often, they had to slump lower than they have to on most wickets. It was a pitch designed to plough.

 

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The spinners also had to toil for their rewards. Ravichandran Ashwin probably never had to rely so much on all his smarts, tricks and wisdom than in this match. That Ravindra Jadeja toiled 33 overs for one wicket will capture the non-existent devils in the pitch. A few balls did misbehave, but one expects that on most fourth-day wickets. More sun, more chance of deterioration. And Day Five would begin with all four outcomes possible.

Naturally in these conditions, the team with the better group of spinners wrestles the advantage. India, clearly, had a more potent spin strike-force. Their Kiwi counterparts were largely deficient in both plucking wickets as well as stopping runs. Their introductions were pressure-releasing exercises for India’s batsmen.

What if the groundsmen didn’t get the off-day they were expecting? They could be content in producing a potentially stigma-busting pitch.

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