NAGPUR: Amid apprehension that few would take the trouble of travelling a long way to the ground, the third Test saw decent turnouts by local standards. The VCA Stadium gates were busy every morning and the longest queues were seen on Friday. Season ticket holders all with no daily sales, they were determined to have fun, given a Day 3 finish was imminent.
The presence of about 10,000 to witness Virat Kohli win his first Test series at home as captain was felt in no uncertain terms after Ravichandran Ashwin capped another successful outing with career-best figures. The skipper waved towards the stands to acknowledge the roar while walking off and thanked the crowd at the post-match presentation. The happy face turned grim while talking to the media minutes afterwards, as pitch became the talking point, threatening to dilute the value of triumph against the No 1 team, with a round to spare.
Kohli maintained he saw nothing wrong with tracks, despite matches getting over in three days and batsmen yet to find ways to not master, but put bat, to the hissing ball. “Most teams that dominated at home in recent times have played in conditions that suit them. Don’t understand why there’s such hype about pitches. People can write what they want. As far we’re concerned, there was no undue advantage for us.”
But the talk is not about undue advantages for one team. Unusual about pitches for the first and third Tests was their lopsided nature that reduced cricket to an endless struggle for batsmen on either side. Although Ashwin stands out for what he’s doing and his straighter one to dismiss AB de Villiers was a piece of outwitting written wizardry on it, the series is still to see a century. Four fifty-plus scores in nine completed innings from some of the best batsmen indicates spinners are enjoying an advantage they don’t in most places.
Forget strokes, batsmen of both teams found it difficult to even place the ball in gaps despite there being many, due to the constant deployment of close-in fielders. Indians struggling is the highlight, because in most tales of spin conquering foreigners, those used to conditions managed totals substantially more than 197.25 — India’s average in Mohali and Nagpur. This makes the pitch factor, in what Ashwin is doing with Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra, difficult to overlook. Kohli blamed batsmen for the lack of big scores. “I don’t want to comment on the other team. Our batsmen could have done better. It’s a matter of application. We’ve seen low totals because just two of us are showing that in each innings. If four in a top order of six show determination to dig in and play differently from what comes naturally, we’ll see bigger totals. It’s more about lack of application and mistakes by batsmen than the ball doing crazy things.”
Now that this formula has brought success against a formidable side and a host of home Tests are lined up next season, will this become a template? With Ashwin producing deliveries that can trouble the best on better tracks, this is an idea the team management might be tempted to explore, especially if the opposition doesn’t have spinners of international repute.
Not looking that far ahead, Kohli listed the virtues of this strategy. “Winning is more important than averages or big scores. Not that we’re taking this as a policy, but these are conditions in the sub-continent and we’ll play lots of Tests here in future. We need to step up our game to win, like we’ve done this time.” With that, he left to enjoy the remainder of a memorable day. The additional break gives him time to stay away from questions on twists and turns.