The war-cry for the India-England series has been sounded. And it comes from the likeliest of sources - Virat Kohli. Knowing the fact that the English batsmen are susceptible to spin, Kohli justified the use of rank-turners for the upcoming Test series and strengthened the argument of India exploiting its home advantage. At the outset, one feels that Kohli’s statements are justified as every home team has the right to use the conditions to its advantage and make the opposition work hard for their victories.
These statements come at a very interesting time – days after an India A squad was named without a specialist spinner for the practice game against England. It is clear that the selectors wanted to keep their cards close to their chests, but in the bargain they have lost out on an opportunity to zero in on back-up options for Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. While this move has been widely criticised, one mustn’t forget that that squad features left-arm spinners Yuvraj Singh and Ashok Menaria who can both be a handful on their day.
If one digs into the recent history of Indian cricket, one would say that there is a very thin line in using home advantage and exploiting it in every sense. Some of the Test matches in the recent past would suggest that India have gone a bit too far in producing rank-turners to suit its own needs. Those instances were shameful – as those surfaces weren’t just rank-turners; they were minefields. One would want to see surfaces which aid spin bowling, but the batsmen have enough chances of scoring runs if they put their heads down.
Let us revisit the instances of Mumbai 2004 and Kanpur 2008. In November 2004, India and Australia headed to Mumbai for the final Test even as the tourists had sealed the series 2-0. India were playing for pride and they sealed a consolation win on a square turner at the Wankhede Stadium. Such were the demons of the surface that 18 wickets fell on Day Two and 20 fell on the third. India clinched the contest by a mere 13 runs – bowling Australia out for 93 who were in their pursuit of a target of 107. India went into the game with three spinners – Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik – who scalped 18 Australian wickets between them.
Coming to April 2008, India and South Africa battled at Kanpur in the final Test of the series and the home side had to win to level the contest. The surface was crumbling and the two teams put up respectable totals in the first two essays. However, when the Proteas commenced their second innings with a deficit, the ball started spinning viciously on the surface. As a result, they buckled under the pressure and were bowled out for 121 – leaving India with 62 to get to level the series.
One may say that these are isolated incidents, but they have a very common background. The Tests played prior to this game were contested on green tracks - Nagpur 2004 and Ahmedabad 2008 – which handed the advantage to the opposition. A school of thought believed that it was the way forward and India must learn to play on such surfaces. However, what is the point in handing the advantage to a touring side? Are England and Australia going to return the favours when India visit by preparing wickets conducive to spin? The answer would be a resounding no.
If India wants its batsmen to play well on green surfaces – then such facilities should be provided in the nets. The pitches in domestic cricket and the age-group competitions should be prepared in that regard. There is no point in making them for visiting Test sides as that is nothing but “Mehmaan Nawaazi” - Hindi words for hospitality - one may say.
One can say that India went a bit too far in using its home advantage in the aftermath of the defeats at Nagpur and Ahmeadabad and it is certainly something you don’t want to see. One cannot prepare wickets where it is almost impossible to bat on and the batsmen must have a fair chance. The same argument applies for flat tracks – as there has to be something in it for the bowlers to use. Even on some of the green track we have seen abroad, the batsmen have got the runs if they applied themselves.
Kohli is absolutely right in saying that there is no harm in producing rank-turners, but India must guard against the events of Mumbai and Kanpur and not produce minefields. England must be tested in sub-continental conditions. It is only fair as India had to play on those green tacks when they visited there.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)