When Virat Kohli and the boys under his command take on New Zealand in the first of the three-Test home series at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur on Thursday, the daunting task the home team could face is not about winning, but about not winning inside three days.
That’s an exciting prospect amusingly different for India to deal with in their 500th Test match compared to what Cottari Kanakaiya Naidu and his team had to handle at Lord’s in the historic first Test in 1932.
Eighty-four years ago the challenge for the Indian team was to survive three days of play without losing the match, which they couldn’t as England won the Test by 158 runs, but more than eight decades down the line the problem being faced by India is, again, about three days — but this time it’s about how to make the rivals survive more than three days.
The pitch in Kanpur, or elsewhere in the entire 13 Test matches being scheduled for the 2016-2017 home season, is going to be low and slow. No one expects India to welcome the visitors with a greentop and even if any groundsman would try to cheer them up with hard and bouncy tales, few would believe them. Not coach Mike Hesson, definitely.
In March this year Hesson, being tipped off on a “lots of bounce” pitch in Nagpur by groundstaff before the World T20 match against India, dropped Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Mitchell McClenaghan to rope in Nathan McCullum, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi to leave the Indians in a (79 all out inside 18.1 overs) spin.
Media reports quoted Hesson joking about a lack of such wholesome tips about the pitch in Kanpur, but this time he need not disbelieve groundstaff, perhaps. Green Park curator Shiv Kumar says the pitch he has laid is expected to offer turn, but not from ball one, and given the fact that the patches of grass could come to life in the rains, the cracks are unlikely to spring up the devils too early.
Neither Anil Kumble nor Kohli would call up any curator and tell him to lay slow pitches for Test matches. They don’t need to, because the message is understood before it’s conveyed. The Indian spinners are going to enjoy the home conditions — the heat, the humidity, the dust demons and all — and the best way for Kumble and Kohli to blunt criticism against the pitches is by making the Indian batsmen raise the bar. That, a score of 400-plus runs, will shut up quite a lot of mouths waiting to cry foul and force the visiting teams to look for options to improve their ability to play spin.
In Santner, Sodhi and Mark Craig New Zealand have plenty of options and deceptive combinations, but if Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay could provide the team with a good start, then Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane could convert the start into advantage and Rohit Sharma could play his game fearlessly to put the issue beyond the New Zealanders. Just one such if-we-could-you-could innings, batting first or second, will be enough to win the match, leaving little for anyone to grumble about the pitch.
The noise against the pitch is often made not by the visiting teams, but by others. The South African team did not blow the pitch issue out of proportion in 2015, and both New Zealand captain Kane Williamson and coach Hesson are not trying to play up the pitch excuse. Interestingly, the voice of disgust is coming from guys like Harbhajan Singh who has made the most of the dustbowls.
Past 36, Singh is overlooked by the selectors and waiting for the one last chance to play at Eden Gardens so he could retire from international cricket, but it’s puzzling why someone who made a life out of the doctored pitches in India is sounding like a saint all of a sudden. The mindset is more like that of a guy who, after failing to make an impact out of the chances that came his way as a batsman, wants to become a curator so he could dish out a difficult pitch and enjoy from beyond the boundary the guys who grabbed their chances succumb to the poisoned chalice.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman