© AFP
India won the first Test at Mohali inside three days © AFP

The usual eyebrows were raised India beat South Africa inside three days in the first Test of the Gandhi-Mandela Series 2015-16 at Mohali. The match lasted 1,508 balls (251.2 overs), resulting in 694 runs as all 40 wickets fell. In other words, a wicket fell every 37.7 balls. As is norm with subcontinent pitches, a lot of pundits immediately called the pitch ‘poor’ and ‘doctored.’

Of course, Hashim Amla was remarkably gracious in defeat, admitting the technique and application of his batsmen instead of blaming the pitch. A reasonable number of critics, of course, did not agree, and countered with the oft-used nonsensical argument: if spinners dominate proceedings, the pitch is invariably bad.

This, obviously, was not the first occasion when a subcontinent pitch was thus classified. The Wankhede strip of 2004-05 where the Indian spinners defended 107 (and Michael Clarke had 6 for 9) received similar criticism. There have been other occasions as well.

What makes a ‘doctored’ pitch? When England played at New Wanderers in 1999-00, the pitch was so green that it could hardly be distinguished from the ground. England were 2 for 4 in the third over; Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock wreaked havoc; England, unable to recover from the shock, were bowled out for 122 and lost by an innings. No, that was not labelled a poor pitch.

The complaints are mostly targeted at pitches that assist spinners. On a Queen’s Park Oval pitch in 1995, Australia were bowled out for 128 and 105 by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. West Indies did little better in the first innings (136), though they raced to a 9-wicket victory. There was a wicket every 15 runs and 32 balls. That was not called a poor pitch either.

Fans and pundits alike have somehow contrived an idea that subcontinent teams ‘doctor’ pitches to their liking while others do not. Worse, there is a general notion that pitches that aid bounce and seam movement are considered genuine Tests for batsmen, while turning pitches are considered poor. Hence, when subcontinent teams fail in overseas conditions it is usually attributed to terrible technique and inability to cope, whereas dusty Asian pitches are often blamed for batsmen’s inability to cope with turn. READ: Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra: A throwback to an older era of Indian cricket

What, then, decides whether a pitch is ‘doctored’? Let us, first, start with the basics — a simple break-up by country. Let us go back to the early 1990s, from when the ‘allegations’ began after Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajit Wadekar converted India to an unbeatable home team. In other words, let us go back 25 years:

Host Country

M

R/W

B/W

UAE

25

34.91

70.29

India

100

35.12

69.09

Zimbabwe

52

31.57

67.17

Sri Lanka

114

33.10

65.54

New Zealand

97

33.01

65.15

Pakistan

63

33.96

64.89

West Indies

113

32.00

64.65

Australia

141

34.13

64.19

Bangladesh

52

34.56

64.00

England

163

33.68

61.99

South Africa

113

31.35

60.87

BPW_All

 

Do note the balls required for sides to take a wicket. The difference between India and South Africa is 8.22 balls a wicket. In other words, for 40 wickets to fall (the ideal case), a Test has required 328.8 balls more — in other words, almost 65 overs. That is more than two sessions.

Also note the dominance of the Asian teams: in a list of 11 countries, 4 Asian countries feature in the top 6. READ: Result-oriented wickets like Mohali will help Test cricket

Conclusion: Tests in India last longest among all Test-playing nations. The top six feature four Asian countries.

But then, subcontinent pitches are also criticised for being too flat and resulting in high-scoring draws. What about the matches that ended in results?

Host Country

M

R/W

B/W

Bangladesh

40

33.30

61.48

Australia

115

32.23

60.43

UAE

18

32.00

64.00

India

70

31.70

62.16

England

122

31.08

56.85

Sri Lanka

78

30.34

58.91

South Africa

89

30.07

56.74

Zimbabwe

36

29.98

61.60

Pakistan

40

29.72

56.97

New Zealand

62

29.01

56.51

West Indies

75

28.18

56.93

BPW_Decided

Once again, 4 Asian countries feature in the top 6. The difference between Bangladesh and West Indies in decided Tests is 182 balls, in other words, one full session.

Conclusion: Decided Tests in Bangladesh last longest among all Test-playing nations. The top six feature four Asian countries.

But then, when you ‘doctor’ pitches, more often than not, you win the Tests. How quickly have matches ended when the home side has won? READ: India vs South Africa 2015, 1st Test at Mohali: 5 reasons the hosts triumphed

Host Country

M

R/W

B/W

India

54

31.75

62.47

Zimbabwe

9

29.33

61.90

Australia

97

32.72

61.41

Bangladesh

4

30.17

59.66

Sri Lanka

51

30.62

59.54

Pakistan

25

30.25

56.93

South Africa

65

30.00

56.42

West Indies

38

27.31

55.59

England

77

30.94

55.06

New Zealand

31

28.32

54.07

BPW_HomeWon

This is quite telling. In matches that India win at home, a wicket falls every 62.47 balls, compared to 54.07 balls in New Zealand. The difference is 8.40 balls, which means that — assuming 40 wickets — Tests won by India at home last 336 balls longer than in New Zealand. That is almost two sessions.

Once again, the top 6 teams (out of 10 this time, for Tests played in UAE are technically neutral) include 4 Asian teams. If one excludes Zimbabwe and Bangladesh for small sample size, the count comes to 3 in top 4 (out of 8).

Conclusion: Tests won by India in India last longest among all Tests won by home sides. The top six feature four Asian countries.

Home teams do ‘doctor’ pitches; in fact, they are supposed to do so.  But all these invariably point to one thing: subcontinent teams do not ‘doctor’ pitches to their liking any more than their counterparts across the world. READ: Cheteshwar Pujara lays to rest No. 3 debate for India in Tests with steely knock against South Africa in 1st Test

But what about the Mohali pitch?

The much talked-about Test at Mohali lasted 1,508 balls, as mentioned above. If we rank by balls bowled, this is joint-118th on the list over the past 25 years (with a 25-wicket cut-off*). In fact, there have been 3 Tests where the Test has not reached the 1,000-ball mark; and 20 others where it did not go past 1,200 balls (200 overs). In fact, the much talked-about Wankhede Test of 2004-05 (mentioned above) reached 1,213 balls, and is the shortest decided Test played on Indians soil in the past 25 years.

*Note: The cut-off for wickets can be more, but one needs to accommodate innings victories.

Let us see the shortest Tests played during this phase (cut-off: 25 wickets):

R

W

B

R/W

B/W

Match

Ground

Country

Date

422

29

893

14.55

30.79

Aus vs Pak

Sharjah

UAE

11.10.02.

505

30

941

16.83

31.37

Eng vs WI

Headingley

Eng

17.8.00.

467

31

983

15.06

31.71

WI vs Aus

Queen’s Park Oval

WI

21.4.95.

663

32

1007

20.72

31.47

SA vs Aus

Newlands

SA

9.11.11.

610

29

1011

21.03

34.86

Zim vs NZ

Harare

Zim

7.8.05.

536

29

1034

18.48

35.66

Eng vs WI

Edgbaston

Eng

6.7.95.

704

29

1059

24.28

36.52

Eng vs Aus

Trent Bridge

Eng

6.8.15.

507

36

1061

14.08

29.47

NZ vs Ind

Hamilton

NZ

19.12.02.

662

29

1066

22.83

36.76

SL vs Pak

Kandy

SL

26.8.94.

649

33

1080

19.67

32.73

Pak vs WI

Faisalabad

Pak

23.11.90.

678

29

1090

23.38

37.59

NZ vs Ban

Hamilton

NZ

18.12.01.

644

29

1092

22.21

37.66

SL vs Ban

Premadasa

SL

12.9.05.

707

28

1132

25.25

40.43

SA vs NZ

Centurion

SA

16.11.07.

608

26

1158

23.38

44.54

NZ vs Ban

Wellington

NZ

26.12.01.

695

33

1164

21.06

35.27

Eng vs Aus

Trent Bridge

Eng

2.8.01.

619

30

1170

20.63

39.00

Aus vs WI

WACA

Aus

30.1.93.

680

29

1171

23.45

40.38

Eng vs Ind

Old Trafford

Eng

7.8.14.

649

29

1175

22.38

40.52

NZ vs Ban

Wellington

NZ

12.1.08.

565

30

1185

18.83

39.50

NZ vs Ind

Wellington

NZ

12.12.02.

845

29

1193

29.14

41.14

SL vs Ban

P Sara

SL

20.9.05.

708

35

1196

20.23

34.17

NZ vs Pak

Eden Park

NZ

10.2.94.

810

30

1197

27.00

39.90

Eng vs Aus

Headingley

Eng

7.8.09.

701

30

1200

23.37

40.00

Aus vs Ind

WACA

Aus

13.1.12.

There are 23 entries on the list. Though the top entry is an Asian entry, there are only 4 others (2 of which are Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh in Sri Lanka, both in 2005, before Bangladesh’s rise). Interestingly, New Zealand accounts for six entries.

On the other hand, India have been on the receiving end of Tests lasting 200 or less overs 4 times and Pakistan twice (not including the Sharjah Test against Australia on a neutral venue).

Of course, the Wankhede Test saw 40 wickets going down, which puts it second on the all-time list if one sorts. Though the third entry is also from Asia, of the 18 Tests where a wicket has fallen every 36 balls (6 overs), only one more has been from Asia. READ: Ravindra Jadeja back with a bang in India vs South Africa 2015, 1st Test at Mohali

R

W

B

R/W

B/W

Match

Ground

Country

Date

507

36

1061

14.08

29.47

NZ vs Ind

Hamilton

NZ

19.12.02.

605

40

1213

15.13

30.33

Ind vs Aus

Wankhede

Ind

3.11.04.

422

29

893

14.55

30.79

Aus vs Pak

Sharjah

UAE

11.10.02.

505

30

941

16.83

31.37

Eng vs WI

Headingley

Eng

17.8.00.

663

32

1007

20.72

31.47

SA vs Aus

Newlands

SA

9.11.11.

702

40

1262

17.55

31.55

SA vs WI

St George’s Park

SA

10.12.98.

467

31

983

15.06

31.71

WI vs Aus

Queen’s Park Oval

WI

21.4.95.

649

33

1080

19.67

32.73

Pak vs WI

Faisalabad

Pak

23.11.90.

708

35

1196

20.23

34.17

NZ vs Pak

Eden Park

NZ

10.2.94.

923

40

1368

23.08

34.20

Aus vs Eng

SCG

Aus

3.1.14.

660

40

1376

16.50

34.40

SA vs Ind

Kingsmead

SA

26.12.96.

610

29

1011

21.03

34.86

Zim vs NZ

Harare

Zim

7.8.05.

695

33

1164

21.06

35.27

Eng vs Aus

Trent Bridge

Eng

2.8.01.

667

40

1411

16.68

35.28

Eng vs Aus

The Oval

Eng

21.8.97.

536

29

1034

18.48

35.66

Eng vs WI

Edgbaston

Eng

6.7.95.

814

40

1428

20.35

35.70

WI vs Pak

Queen’s Park Oval

WI

16.4.93.

808

36

1286

22.44

35.72

SA vs NZ

New Wanderers

SA

5.5.06.

745

40

1434

18.63

35.85

Aus vs NZ

Bellerive Oval

Aus

9.12.11.

Ironically, India were on the receiving end of these Tests twice and Pakistan twice.

As a final check, let us also look at runs per wicket. The conditions remain the same.

The range is vast, from 14.08 to 38.92. Two Tests have 15 or less runs per wicket, and for 25 more the value is below 20. Of these 27 a mere 7 are from Asian venues (3 in India, and 1 each in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and UAE). On the other hand, India have been at the receiving end 5 times, Pakistan twice (and the Sharjah Test), and Sri Lanka twice.

R

W

B

R/W

B/W

Match

Ground

Country

Date

507

36

1061

14.08

29.47

NZ vs Ind

Hamilton

NZ

19.12.02.

422

29

893

14.55

30.79

Aus vs Pak

Sharjah

UAE

11.10.02.

467

31

983

15.06

31.71

WI vs Aus

Queen’s Park Oval

WI

21.4.95.

605

40

1213

15.13

30.33

Ind vs Aus

Wankhede

Ind

3.11.04.

660

40

1376

16.50

34.40

SA vs Ind

Kingsmead

SA

26.12.96.

667

40

1453

16.68

36.33

Aus vs SL

Darwin

Aus

1.7.04.

667

40

1411

16.68

35.28

Eng vs Aus

The Oval

Eng

21.8.97.

505

30

941

16.83

31.37

Eng vs WI

Headingley

Eng

17.8.00.

646

38

1406

17.00

37.00

Eng vs WI

Lord’s

Eng

29.6.00.

693

40

1536

17.33

38.40

WI vs Ind

Sabina Park

WI

30.6.06.

694

40

1508

17.35

37.70

Ind vs SA

Mohali

Ind

5.11.15.

702

40

1262

17.55

31.55

SA vs WI

St George’s Park

SA

10.12.98.

645

36

1582

17.92

43.94

SL vs Eng

SSC

SL

15.3.01.

538

30

1331

17.93

44.37

Aus vs WI

The Gabba

Aus

23.11.00.

The Mohali Test is 12th on the list in terms of batting average, but it is nowhere close to the top (bottom?) when it comes to balls bowled or balls per wicket. The outcome has a lot to do with the run rate (2.76), but with 9 men going past the 30-mark, it can hardly be termed a poor pitch for batting. READ: Virat Kohli: Tracing the growth of a superstar

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)