CHENNAI: ‘A typical Chepauk pitch’. It is common to keep hearing these words ahead of a Test in the city. In fact, in the lead up to Tests here, even reporters are used to ask players if they expect the pitch to behave in the ‘typical Chepauk way’. Some agree. Some say ‘it is hard to judge’. Some call it ‘dry’. Some, like Joe Root, call it ‘not the prettiest one I have ever seen’.
It is quite possible that these days, nobody knows what the typical Chepauk pitch is. Former players recall a typical Chepauk pitch as one that has turn and bounce, with its red soil content. This pitch ultimately breaks up as the Test progresses. But these characteristics are hard to see these days. The 2013 Test against Australia came close in terms of having the bounce, but it wasn’t consistent.
In 2016, a high-scoring Test was heading for a draw before England collapsed in a manner only they could, losing 10 wickets under two sessions on a flat deck. The first Test had all the hallmarks of a high-scoring draw with the pitch not deteriorating as expected, but it still ended up producing a result. However, the slowness of the surface hasn’t been to India’s liking.
It is why all things indicate a turner for the second Test starting on Saturday. In that sense, the indications are that the pitch could be similar to the ones India played against South Africa in 2015, where two Tests ended in three days. That means England’s pace attack led by James Anderson could be neutralised and it will come down to the spinners. Now, the word turner can easily be misinterpreted as an under-prepared pitch where it begins to take turn from Day 1. To ensure it takes turn, curators usually stop watering the strip couple of days ahead of the match. They leave it exposed to the sun so that it starts breaking up as early as possible.
While toss played a huge role in the first Test and it is likely the case on most pitches at home, India believe it shouldn’t determine the outcome as much as it did here. It isn’t as if India are the only side that has had issues with the pitch while playing here. Tamil Nadu are quite used to this in Ranji Trophy. These days they play in Chepauk only towards the fag end of their season, where a favourable result is needed. And invariably, they have played on turners where it is a 50:50 chance for both the teams.
Ahead of the first Test, the pitch had plenty of grass which was eventually shaved off. Had it been retained, it would have assisted the seamers significantly on the first morning. India have been at the receiving end of such pitches, although this current bunch isn’t used to those. Remember Ahmedabad 2008 where India were bowled out in the first session on a green, lively track against South Africa.
Abhinav Mukund, who has played at Chepauk for over a decade, had this to say about the pitch on Twitter: “If you leave a lot of water on the wicket, it becomes too damp for the first session and is a dream to bat on days 2 and 3. So the only way we could counter it was to prepare a pitch that would turn from ball 1. I strongly believe it took the toss out of the picture.”
Since 2002, the centre square consisting eight pitches has been relaid multiple times. After clay-soil content contributed to low bounce, TNCA went back to red soil in 2014, but still the bounce is missing.
Critics point out that the constant relaying of the square means it has never been allowed to settle. But the search for ‘the typical Chepauk pitch’ continues.