Making pitches should be like cooking; there is always the possibility that a plot is undercooked as much as it could be overcooked, undercooked, just as a strip could end up being overcooked. Perfection is often subjective, some like it a little overcooked, others a little undercooked. Some will say, as long as it is acceptable.
Motera’s pitch, which saw the beaters crumble like overly crispy cookies, 30 wickets in less than four sessions, could have turned in the direction of insufficient and insufficient baking, but not unpleasant. It wasn’t a Bunsen Burner, the one that spins and bounces; it was not a snake pit, where the ball slipped high; not a minefield, the rebound of which even the most astute astrologer could not predict. Not a short bullet escaped on the ground; not a ball of good length has been thrown from waist height.
What the tape did was spin, and spin amazingly, more than what was seen in the first two trials, or in the recent vintage in the subcontinent.
It was, basically, something between an akhada and a dustbowl. A row turner, if there was one.
Bullies on flat track
Dashboard part was telling the truth; some also hid the truth. Undercooked beaters on undercooked locations are a recipe for disaster.
Now replace the spin with stitch and swing, and the results are eerily identical. A parallel could be drawn with the surrender of India in the second round in Adelaide (winter 36), where the drummers were unable to reverse the movement of the pink ball instigated by a group of high-class couturiers at their better. They were surprised by the lack of discretion, hard hands, ingenuity, judgement, lead feet and premeditated wit.
Just replace the stitching with effect and the same set of flaws resonate. England, and most of their Indian counterparts too, with a determined mindset went to bat, that no matter what they would play their shots. To play everything with the deflection after the ball landed, Zak Crawley came up with a rearfoot ploy. A reliable method in Asia, but not against someone so quick and someone who slips the new hairspray heavy ball like Axar Patel. In addition, he had seen several of his teammates perish on the road behind the foot. He played down the bad line to weaken an already weak ploy.
Axar’s next victim, Jonny Bairstow looked even more ridiculous when he tried to sweep right away, without trying to figure out the existing state of the ground. If this was the intended shot for the breakouts, it was so misguided it deserved another sentence.
Taking turns cheating is one thing, but coming out on the wrong line is another, as 13 of England’s batsmen have done in both innings. It means deeper discomfort. Decreased ability of drummers to bowling on rotating lanes. So is the batsman’s gnawing inability to counter quality bowling. Scores of 36 and 81 are two sides of the same story, the growing inability of batsmen to thrive in adverse conditions.
Not so long ago, in Leeds, England had won 67 points, 58 in Auckland, 77 in Bridgetown and 85 at the hands of Ireland in Lord’s. Australia was grouped together in Nottingham for 60 and 85 in Hobart (by South Africa).
The last two tests lost to India at home were aimed at a total in the fourth innings, the drop brought on by the spinners. Even outside Asia, they lost to the tricks of spinners like Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali (twice!). In case you can’t imagine the possibility of an Indian batsman being harangued by spinners, just grab Ajinkya Rahane’s approach in the first innings (in fact, the whole series), when he tried to sweep a short ball and cut a full one. Ball. So much for the dexterity against spin bowling of Indian batsmen.
Trial cricket may be more entertaining than ever, but not always of the highest quality. Would England’s 2012 lot have sunk so easily at this wicket? Would the Indian motor-hitting firm Fab Four surrender as abjectly as its successors (145 shouldn’t escape censorship either)? The T20 staple would not always work for reverse sweeps and slogging.
The footage from this test match is to be kept in cricket academies to show how not to bowling. Playing from the hollow, not going completely back or forward. Premeditate, whether sweeping or defending. Drummers from both camps were subject to it. Use of hands and feet could come later.
And what happened to the art of choosing the variation of the bowler’s hand. Most bowlers throw in telltale clues. Most drummers study their finger, shoulder, wrist, and action movements religiously to pick out tiny gifts. In Asia, reading them off the pitch, they know, is risky business. Scrambled stitch deliveries are sometimes even more difficult to choose. But modern day drummers are confident that they can choose the variations on the pitch.
The lack of ingenuity was glaring beyond all this. They remained shocked, unable to draw a plan, surrendered too easily, and in the end, cast derogatory eyes towards the field, rather than look to the back.
No drummers all conditions
In the world, apart from three or four elite drummers, the rest wrestle in alien conditions (the word in its truest essence) or in churning at a constant rate. All over the world, even the supposed Fab Four of this generation doesn’t have sound records. For example, Kane Williamson, averages 30.87 in England, 20.16 in South Africa and 27.61 in Sri Lanka. Virat Kohli aggregates in England and South Africa is 36; Joe Root’s corresponding number in Australia is 38, in New Zealand he’s slightly better 39. In Bangladesh, Steve Smith didn’t do particularly well (29, but in two tests). So when even the cream of the bat struggles to stay on top in all conditions, what about the rest?
Some blame it on non-existent warm-up games, unlike in the days when teams used to visit a country for two to three months and acclimatize a lot. These days, there are too many international gatherings to facilitate that.
But whatever the name of the blame game, sometimes (not always) what batsmen give it to is the quality of a pitch. It looked undercooked in Ahmedabad because the beaters were also undercooked.