RANCHI: The last time the JSCA International Stadium hosted a Test — which incidentally was also its first — the series was finely poised. India and Australia had won a match each. The four-Test series, which the hosts won 2-1 was filled with drama. As the action shifted to Jharkhand’s capital for the third Test of that series, all eyes were on the surface, which members of the visiting media expected to be a minefield. But apprehensions evaporated into thin air as the match progressed, with both teams scoring more than 400 in the first innings and the contest ending in an eventful draw.
Unlike the 2017 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the ongoing series between India and South Africa might not be a closely-contested affair. With the hosts winning the first two Tests in Visakhapatnam and Pune, the series is already over. The final match starting on Saturday, however, can’t still be called a dead rubber because of the 40 World Test Championship points up for grabs. And as the teams moved to Ranchi, talk has once again started on what kind of pitch is on offer.
Given the reputation of good travellers of the South African teams of the past, the current bunch must be feeling crestfallen after two big defeats. Already under pressure, a ‘typical Indian pitch’ was the last thing they would have wanted. As luck would have it, their fears seem to have come true, with the curator rolling out a spin-friendly pitch. Even a warning shot was fired. “A thin grass cover will aid pacers on Day 1 but it will be the spinners who’ll play a decisive role from Day 3,” said a member of the ground staff.
The look of the surface and statements made on it were expected to draw strong reactions from Faf Du Plessis & Co, who have already lost main spinner Keshav Maharaj to a shoulder injury. They were seen preparing for the match by roughing up the practice pitches with spikes before taking on the spinners. “I think the wicket will spin. I looked at the pitch and it’s a different colour. There’s obviously that dark, dry hardness to the surface. I think reverse swing and spin will play a part in this match,” said the South African captain ahead of the final encounter.
India’s wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha, though, played down such talks. “There was a bit of uneven bounce on the practice wicket, but overall it was good for batting,” he said.Like 2017, conversations surrounding the wicket might prove to be inaccurate. The surface could turn out to be a batting paradise, but Du Plessis doesn’t want to take a chance. “For me, it’s just about trying to put myself in a position where I feel like I’m prepared,” he said.
Dhoni likely to watch
Former India captain MS Dhoni might be seen cheering for Virat Kohli and boys as he is expected to reach the city and watch the proceedings from the stadium. “We have invited him and his family. He could be here on Saturday or Sunday,” a Jharkhand State Cricket Association office-bearer told this newspaper.