AHMEDABAD: “I have a question back. What is a good cricket surface?” Ravichandran Ashwin quipped. There was a sense of exasperation in his voice when he responded to the criticism over the Ahmedabad pitch during an impromptu press conference on Saturday.
The two-day finish to the third Test, which saw England lose 10 wickets and India seven in one day, led to this strong criticism.
When one adds the mysterious nature in the way the pink ball behaved, you get quite an intriguing tale to the existing narrative. Extra lacquer, skidding off the surface, less revs despite giving it a fair bit of a tweak are some of the observations put forward by both sets of players.
“Despite trying to put revs on the ball, it wasn’t rotating as much at the seam. If at all, it fell on the seam, it was spinning quite big at that time. It wasn’t responding the way the red ball was responding. Whatever was happening, was happening really quickly off the surface. If we played a red-ball game on the same surface, the pace of the game must have been a touch slower. These are all the things I’m talking about in hindsight,” Ashwin said.
While some former English cricketers blamed the pitch for the two-day finish, England captain Joe Root apart from terming the early finish as a shame, said the pink ball had a role to play too. On this pitch, the pink ball not only skidded, it gathered pace after pitching, which gave less time for batsmen to react.
India, like England, have found the pink ball, which is still at early stages, more helpful to the bowlers than the batsmen. Though both teams were presented the pink ball before the Test series began in Chennai, there is still unfamiliarity around how it behaves in a match situation. India have played three pink-ball Tests and all have come on varied conditions. In Ahmedabad, they opted for a turner as it had assisted the seamers in Kolkata and Adelaide. Even they are puzzled how the extra coating of lacquer ensured the gloss never went away, a reason why some of the balls went straight after pitching.
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There is apprehension in the Indian camp that more than the skillset of batsmen who are not equipped to play on turners, it is the pitch that makes more noise.More so when the pink ball Tests has a history of producing a winner. Among the 16 Tests that has been played under lights, only six have gone on to the fifth day.
“You don’t want people to go back home and say, ‘India is not winning the game, it’s the pitch that’s winning game’. That’s not what I want people to do. Anyway, I know that’s going to come up, this kind of conditioning has been happening, it has happened for a long time. It’s important people sell things, but we must know what we must buy,” Ashwin said in reference to former England players criticising the pitch.
Whether it seams, or bounces or spins, tracks that produce results under three-days can never be called a good advertisement for Test cricket. But India feel more often than not, it is those pitches that take turn that are being viewed with a magnifying lens.
“I have said this in the past also. Everybody is entitled to their opinion and I am not here to say your opinion was wrong or right. But the fact remains that the talk around the surface... it’s just getting out of hand yaar. Why would you talk about the surface to us time and time again? Has there been any instance where the surface has been spoken about at any other place, any other country we have played games in?”
As far as whether the Ahmedabad pitch was good or bad, Ashwin said as much: “What makes a good surface? Who defines this? Seam on the first day and then bat well and then spin on the last two days? Come on! Who makes all these rules, we need to get over it and not talk about whatever picture you want to paint. If you're asking if it is a good Test surface, I don't see any of the players coming from England having an issue with the surface. They want to improve, they look like they want to have a contest. Is it the players and the people who are reporting back that want their players to not complete and complain about the pitches? Because we have never done that on any of the tours.”