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Was the pitch for 3rd India vs England Test in Ahmedabad unacceptable?

Joe Root batting for England
Joe Root batting for England
©BCCI
 

What makes for a perfect pitch? One that examines the opening batsmen in the first session of day one and generally gets better for batting as the game moves forward, before breaking down late in the piece.

What's an ideal Test pitch

It is at its best on days one and two after which the wear and tear begins. It begins to spin some time on late day three or early day four which keeps increasing and spinners fancy their chances on the last day. At the same time, it also provides for reverse swing (or extended conventional swing) for the pace bowlers when the ball gets old.

At the same time, if the batsmen apply themselves, they should be able to score big runs. The fundamental idea is to take the match to the last day, and the last session ideally, which examines each and every aspect of every player involved in the test match. However, such a scenario is hardly on show despite the recency bias of the India tour of Australia which had some near perfect matches on display.

While the pitches in the Indian subcontinent assist spinners almost all the way through more often than not, the ones in the SENA countries are more pacer-friendly.

WTC final on India's mind

Rolling out bunsens for touring teams was the norm for India in the 90s but they had come a long way from that mentality. However, once they were defeated soundly by England in the first test match, and a series defeat and a chance of missing the bus for the World Test Championship final loomed large, the home team was quick to dish out spinners for the remaining test matches.

In Motera, the use of the pink ball further meant that the balance between bat and ball went for a toss.

Was the pitch used at Motera a good one

The answer is a simple one, not at all, but was it worthy of being called an unacceptable or an atrocious pitch, as it is being called in some quarters? Let's give ourselves a few points of views before taking a call.

When spinners are introduced as early as the 7th over and have an instant impact, with the ball turning big from the outset, it is not a great sign. Simply because unlike seam on day one which might get better for batting as the game moves forward before becoming quite difficult again on days four and five, spin generally gets more prodigious as the game moves forward.

As per the ICC regulations, any pitch which offers unreasonable spin on day one is categorised as a poor surface and hence, the pitch in Ahmedabad was not a great one. What certainly did not help matters was the way in which batsmen from both sides dealt with the challenge.

21 of the 30 wickets to fall in the match came off straight deliveries, and while it is not as straightforward as batsmen missing straight balls, there are certainly ways of negotiating it a little bit better.

Bad, yes, but was it that bad?

It was a challenging pitch, but was it a 112 all-out pitch, which is what England scored in their first innings after they won the toss and decided to bat on it, or India's 145 all-out? Certainly not.

England were at 74 for two at one point with Joe Root and Zak Crawley looking quite comfortable at the crease. Had England gone on to stitch together a partnership and scored 200+ on that surface in the first innings, which was difficult but not impossible, the match would have taken a different shape.

Likewise, India were 98/2 at one point with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli batting with ease. Once Kohli was dismissed in the last over of the first day, all hell broke loose in the first session of day two, with Jack Leach first pricing out Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane off straight deliveries and Joe Root wreaking havoc later.

However, that happiness for the England fans was short-lived as they were two down within the first three deliveries of their second innings.

Batting techniques exposed

England batsmen have to take the blame for getting bowled out for just 81. There was hardly any feet moment, front or back, and even a ball boy would tell you that being rooted to the crease is not your best bet on a turner.

When any test match ends in a little over five sessions, the pitch cannot be deemed good, but it was made to look worse with the batting techniques and the lacquer on the pink ball which meant that it skidded a lot more. This, in turn, did not allow the batsmen any chance to adjust.

All in all, it was not a great pitch, but not an atrocious one either. No one's saying it should be the norm, but is it utterly unacceptable to spice things up every once in a while? Makes for compelling viewing, doesn't it?

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