It seems it’s the season of brain fade. First to catch it was Virat Kohli, and that was at Bengaluru. Thanks to former Australian batsman and current national selector Mark Waugh, the diagnosis was spot-on. Then, on day four, Steve Smith glanced at the dressing room after being trapped in front of the wicket and promptly announced that the brain fade bug had become contagious.
Brain fade is a temporary inability to think clearly. A sudden mental block that made Kohli shoulder his arms to a ball from Nathan Lyon that pitched on off stump and straightened to trap the Indian skipper plumb in front of the wicket which was famously described by Waugh as “that was a brain fade”. The temporary inability to think wisely that made Smith glance at the stands for clues on the DRS option.
It’s not just players, but others too could get bitten or smitten by the fashionable bug. The Australian media seems to suffer from brain fade when it pans out on Indian pitches and comes up with allegations that sounded ridiculous and arguments that failed to take history into account.
The first, visible symptoms of brain fade lay in the protests that the Ranchi pitch looked brown, dry, low and slow, and that Australia was set to walk head on into another conspiracy. That was actually stating the obvious. Even before the Australian team boarded a flight to Dubai en route to India, the nature of the pitches on offer and the way they were expected to behave had left nothing to guess about. The pitches in India will have little grass on them, the decks will offer plenty of help to spinners, and that’s something even a just-born child will tell you about the pitches on the subcontinent. There’s no room for mystery or conspiracy.
And then there were the ridiculous and outrageous side effects of brain fade. Like the allegations that the pitch looked as if it had been played on, with foot-marks already present, and that the curator had made a stunning admission that Kohli will be allowed to handpick the pitch he wanted.
Curator SB Singh had prepared three pitches and he said “the team” would select one of the three for the Ranchi Test. The team he was referring to was the pitch committee of the BCCI, and not the Indian cricket team led by Kohli. Despite the curator making himself clear later on to defuse the confusion kicked up, deliberately or otherwise, by the media over his statement, there seems to have an unwarranted unwillingness to get and set the facts right and an unhealthy willingness to stick to the guns.
A bit of history will help us get the other side of this brain fade. During the 2012 Indian tour of Australia, the then captain of the Australian team Michael Clarke said after his team had raced to an unassailable 3-0 lead that the pitches in Australia had had more grass on them than before. More grass meant more bounce and more pace, and that was to help their pacemen Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc who shared 71 of the 79 wickets claimed by Australia in the four-Test series won by the home team 4-0.
Before the start of the 2012 season Darren Lehmann had a curators’ conference where he had asked them to be “adventurous and bold”. They did just that. Even the pitch in Sydney that used to favour spinners had so much grass on it that it forced India to play just one spinner, Ravi Ashwin, and Australian fast bowlers bundled out India inside 60 overs for 191 in the first innings that set up the home team to post an innings and 68-run win inside three days.
During the 2015 Indian tour of Australia, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris were fretting and fuming about the pitches that offered not as much bounce and pace as they would have liked.
Now, if the Australian media proclaims that pitches in Australia are never made to suit the home team fast bowlers, that’s an unconvincing lie or a case of a collective inability to recollect facts. That’s brain freeze.
The pitch at Ranchi may look like a strip of the Gobi desert and it’s going to be low and slow. Obviously, it’s going to help spinners. It could be Nathan Lyon or Steve O’Keefe, or both together, doing the work for Australia and help the visitors settle the Border-Gavaskar Trophy issue right at Ranchi itself.
It could be Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja working in tandem, to the accompaniment of Kohli tantrums, to help India go one-up and set up an exciting climax to the four-Test series at Dharamsala a week later. Either way, it’s going to be great fun, a lot of frolic and a bit of brain fade.
Brain fade is not cricket, but cricket is about brain fade as well. About creating brain fade and about how not to get into brain fade. When the bowler pitches it short and the batsman is committed to the front foot, when the ball keeps low, when the ball hits the rough and turns or straightens up, when the ball kisses the crack and bounces awkwardly, when it comes at the chin and the player commits himself to the front foot...the moments of brain fade flow seamlessly session by session to create the magic about cricket that lures crowds to the stands.
When the magic is missing, the crowds will give it the miss.
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