Slow, low batting tracks won't prepare India for tour Down Under

Pitch that's out of touch with ground realities

The slow, low batting tracks on view at Delhi and Kolkata may give India the series but won't help their batsmen on the tour of Australia later this month

Anand Vasu in Kolkata

December 3, 2007

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With a tour of Australia coming up, and only one warm-up match to acclimatise to conditions before the four Tests, are India shooting themselves in the foot by playing on pitches like the one at Eden Gardens? © AFP
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Once they had their second turn to bat, India quickly regained control of the second Test and, with a morning declaration inevitable and given Pakistan's propensity to self-destruct, a result in their favour is still on the cards. Yet some serious questions need to be asked about the pitch this match is being played on.

At the end-of-day press conferences on different days India's players have insisted that this is a result pitch. Geoff Lawson, visibly annoyed after India had piled on 600-plus first-innings runs, made his sentiments clear. "You play Test cricket on different surfaces. But the bowlers should have a chance of bowling the opposition out," he said. "Cricket's all about the balance between bat and ball. On pitches like this there's no balance at all. It's all in favour of the batsmen. But then again, if this is an exciting draw on the last day you're going to say the pitch is okay."

Even overlooking the larger picture of balance between bat and ball, and without rushing to any conclusions about where this match is headed, the Indian think-tank has something to mull over. With a tour of Australia coming up, and only one warm-up match to acclimatise to conditions before the four Tests, are they shooting themselves in the foot by playing on pitches like the one at Eden Gardens? Come to think of it, things weren't especially different in the first Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi either.

As ever, there are two schools of thought. The first will suggest that India can worry about Australia later, and focus now on winning this series against Pakistan. It can be argued that the one thing India need the most going into the Australia series is batsmen in form and morale high, something victory against Pakistan is likely to ensure.

The other side of the same coin, though, suggests the confidence batsmen would have gained might be false, for there has been little in this pitch to test them. Barring Dinesh Karthik, who has hit a trough in an otherwise successful year, India's batsmen scored 202, 50, 82, 102, 112* and 50* in the first innings. But this was against a tired attack on a pitch that was slow and low. Batsmen have been able to press forward relentlessly, often not bothering to wait for the ball to be delivered before planting the front foot down the pitch.

The frustration of the bowlers was evident through the past four days, and a case in point was someone like Mohammad Sami occupying the crease for three hours. The ball was turning out of the rough but once a batsman decided he would not attempt to score, and simply blocked, even edges did not carry to close-in fielders.

Even the best batsmen in the world take time to adjust to different conditions, and playing long innings on pitches that are low and slow is habit-forming. Going on the front foot in a pre-determined manner may be okay for the moment, but doing so against Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson or Shaun Tait in Australian conditions will be career suicide.

A couple of months ago the BCCI's Ground and Pitches Committee, comprising Dhiraj Parsana, Daljit Singh, PR Viswanathan, Taposh Chatterjee and Prabir Mukherjee, met in Mumbai to discuss plans to improve the quality of pitches in India. Experts from the private institutions were consulted for advice on matters from soil composition to internal drainage and many promises were made to ensure sporting pitches that hold up for five days and have some bounce in them. Come the Test matches, though, little has changed. The Kotla pitch was two-paced, Eden Gardens has been consistently slow..

Is the BCCI actually serious about doing something to improve the state of pitches? Are they, in some ways, doing the team no favours by continuing to produce slow, low pitches, leaving their players undercooked when it comes to playing away from home?

On Monday, Cricket Australia announced that it had accepted a BCCI request to shorten, from three days to two, one of the tour matches to be played between the second and third Tests. The BCCI cited no reason for the request, but the very fact they have sought something like this tells you a bit about their line of thinking.

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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