STICKY WICKET: The pitch glitch

dmag16 - STICKY WICKET: The pitch glitch
In cricket, pitches play a pivotal role. A weak outfit that’s able to use the track in a better manner can get favourable results against a relatively stronger team, especially if the better-on-paper opponents have not covered all their bases.

According to a recent report, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has warned the BCCI about the substandard Kanpur pitch that was used in the third and final Test against South Africa last month.

On a deteriorating track, after conceding a 60-run lead in the first innings, the formidable South African side got out for 121 in its second innings. Spinner Harbhajan Singh’s figures of four for 44 may have been understandable, but Virender Sehwag’s stats of 8.5-2-12-3 must have raised several eyebrows. The highly unpredictable nature of the surface not only resulted in an eight-wicket loss for the tourists inside three days, but also deprived them of what would have been an outstanding series triumph. Graeme Smith and company had already outclassed the hosts in the second Test by an innings and 90 runs.

However, this pitch controversy is not a new subject for Indians. Looking at some of the Test pitches used on Indian soil over the years, one will find several irregularities, the purpose of which is quite clear: to maximise the home team’s winning chances.

Every board or team management has a right to produce wickets according to its pluses and minuses. Needless to say, it should be exercised in a balanced way, without any unfair advantage to the home team. Unfortunately, for the Indian team, this has never been the case.

Only in the last eight years there were at least three occasions, if not more, apart from the 2008 Kanpur mess, when a Test surface did not meet the game’s standard, raising several questions.

Here it would be interesting to note that all these three games were the concluding Tests of the series against stronger teams.

In 2001, after recording a magnificent comeback from a follow-on win in the second Test at the Eden Gardens Kolkata, India just managed to win the final Test played on a Chennai wicket that behaved strangely. After big totals posted by India (501) and Australia (391) in their first innings, the tourists, after reaching a cosy 82-1 in their second innings, collapsed to 264 all out -- Harbhajan Singh (8-84) being their main tormentor. Then India, needing just 155 for a series win, lost eight wickets before reaching the target.

Three years later, the Ricky Ponting-led squad did well by winning the series on Indian soil (2-1). But the final Test in Mumbai spoiled the visitors’ otherwise exceptional performance throughout the high-profile tour. The world’s best batting line-up, on a ‘non-Test’ pitch, was dismissed for a scanty 93 while chasing 107 for victory. The Mumbai track hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Gauge the quality of the wicket: rookie Michael Clarke, Australia’s part-time bowler, picked six wickets for nine (his best figures to date) in India’s second innings; Nathan Hauritz, the tourists’ debutant off-spinner, claimed five wickets in the game! Harbhajan, Kumble and Murali Kartik had great outings as well!

Last year, India won the three-Test rubber (1-0) against Pakistan at home, but not without a controversy related to a certain pitch. Though the hosts had won the opening Test in Delhi, the Bangalore track took an alarming turn on the last day of the series with Pakistan looking to play out a draw. From 144-3 in their second innings, Pakistan slumped to 162-7 as the pitch suddenly started to crack open. Even a rock-solid Misbahul Haq (37) fell victim to the tricky track.

One cannot forget the day-one crumbling Bangalore track prepared for the final Test in the 1986-87 momentous series between Pakistan and India, though the hosts had to pay a heavy price on that occasion.