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Monday, January 24, 2022

India vs New Zealand: Green Park pitch busts dustbowl stereotype, Dravid rewards Rs 35,000 to ground staff

There was some assistance for everyone, or not too much lop-sided advantage for one particular breed.

Written by Sandip G | Kanpur |
Updated: November 29, 2021 7:45:21 pm
India vs New ZealandHead Coach of Team India Rahul Dravid during a practice session in Kanpur. (Source: PTI)

The Green Park pitch exceeded the longevity some of its own ground-staff had anticipated, despite pre-match whispers that the match would not last five days and the surface would deteriorate fiendishly, as some of the recent decks for Test matches in the country. But what the Kanpur track provided was a nail-biter of a contest that went the full distance, and despite India being denied a win by the narrowest of margins, it was a draw to be remembered for a long time.

After the game, India’s coach Rahul Dravid would reward the ground-staff. UPCA would inform the media that, “Mr Rahul Dravid has paid Rs 35,000 personally to our groundsmen.”

The reservations about the wicket, expressed before the game, turned out to be unfounded. 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 the five days of this Test threw up, is delicious.

The talk of a turner was conjecture. The Indian 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 playing 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 against South Africa that gave Green Park the stigma was hosted in summer, in mid-April, when temperatures hover in the mid-to-late 30s.

Something for each one

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. As the last Kiwi pair surviving for 52 deliveries proved, it was not a minefield to bat on. The ball didn’t kick or kink off the surface too much, 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.

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 found some joy only on the final afternoon, captures the non-existent devils in the pitch. A few balls did misbehave, but one expects that on most wickets on the last two days.

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.

The Green Park groundsmen didn’t get a day off, as many had predicted, but they could be content in producing a potentially stigma-busting pitch which provided a memorable duel between the No. 1 and 2 -ranked Test teams in the world.

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