Call the Doctor!

Finally, I understand how Australia can win in India! Visiting teams like Australia should hope the grounds staff doctor the wickets MORE, not less. This is what the Third Test in Indore suggests. They called the Indore pitch ‘poor’? I reckon it was pretty darn good in terms of providing an even contest.

When Indian pitches are excessively doctored to take spin, thereby favouring India’s spinners on decks that visiting teams aren’t used to, the visitors don’t stand a chance of making runs. But here’s the thing: neither do the Indians! It levels the playing field (pun intended).

What’s the ‘right’ amount of turn in a wicket as far as India is concerned? It’s enough turn to make batting difficult for visiting teams who aren’t accustomed to it, but not quite enough to present the Indian batters with something completely alien. It’s a ‘Goldilocks’ wicket: not too little turn, not too much, but juuuuust right.

I have no idea how to quantify this ‘Goldilocks’ degree of spin, but the pitches in Nagpur and Delhi certainly seemed to exhibit it. The batting of Rohit Sharma and Axar Patel was outstanding in the First Test, and the home team won easily. With scores level after the first innings of the Second Test, Australia was competitive at 2-85 in the second innings before dropping their bundle and losing 8 wickets for 38. Most seem to agree that Australia was close to making a game of it before everything fell apart. Would have, could have, should have.

Indore was different.

If you over-egg the pudding, if you put too much spice in the mix, it becomes a nightmare for both teams. But at least both teams have a 50-50 shot. Sure, the matches are over within three days, but as Rohit Sharma observed after the Indore Test, this happens in many places outside India as well. And the contest is more equal.

It has happened before. In the First Test in Pune in 2017, Australia batted first and made 260, with Renshaw making 68 and Starc 61. As they always say, you never know what’s a good score until both teams bat on it. Never was that more true than at Pune. It turns out 260 was an outstanding score. Steve O’Keefe then ripped through India with his left-arm orthodox, taking 6-35 and bowling them out for 105. Steve Smith contributed an astonishing 109 in the second innings, but remarkably it wasn’t even needed: O’Keefe repeated his effort in the second innings – another 6-35 to bowl out India for 107 and give Australian a stonking and entirely unexpected 333-run victory. (Side note: Renshaw’s 68 in the first innings at Pune set up Australia’s victory. Sure, he looked out of his depth in the current series with scores of 0, 2 and 2 in Nagpur and Delhi, but I feel sorry for him because no one has mentioned that he’s won a Test in India for his team before.)

The Indore pitch was a rank turner. This (allegedly) was due to it being prepared for a Test match at short notice because the wicket at Dharamsala wasn’t ready. I assume the ground staff were instructed to ensure the pitch would take spin, so they obliged.

Boy, did they oblige. After Matt Kuhnemann ripped through India with 5-16, Usman Khawaja’s first innings 60 turned out to be a match winner, leaving Lyon to do his stuff in the second innings. I don’t know anything about preparing a Test wicket, but I suspect that achieving that ‘Goldilocks’ degree of turn is not necessarily easy to do. It’s not difficult to accidentally go too far and administer a bit too much stimulant.

I’m fascinated to see what sort of wicket is prepared for the Fourth Test at Ahmedabad. Conventional wisdom was that India, expecting to be up 3-0, would be unconcerned about the risk of a loss and ask for a green seamer to help them prepare for the World Test Championship at the Oval in June. But, stung by their loss at Indore, perhaps India is out for blood and will ask for another turner at Ahmedabad.

Call the doctor!

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