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England could not have produced a pitch more suiting India's needs at Trent Bridge if they had gift wrapped it with a note of welcome
George Dobell at Trent Bridge
July 9, 2014
#politeenquiries: Can either team take 20 wickets on this pitch?
The English can be wonderful hosts.
While many nations would attempt to use home advantage to the benefit of their team, England appear to have accepted that home advantage should simply benefit their bank balance.
Just like the pitches used for the series against Sri Lanka, the surface at Trent Bridge was low, slow and offered England's seamers almost nothing. Instead, it offered the Nottinghamshire chief executive a fine opportunity to gain five days of gate receipts.
In the short term, anyway. While Nottinghamshire, like Leeds and Lord's, may congratulate themselves on a profitable week now, they may reflect in years to come that it was a catastrophic mistake to take for granted the support of the English public. They may put up with high prices for tickets and refreshments, but they may not be so patient with stultifying cricket. Trent Bridge was not full for the first day of this series.
It was not so much that the pitch suited India's batsmen or their bowlers. The lack of pace in this pitch will suit nobody. Not seamers, not spinners, not batsmen and certainly not spectators. Within a few overs, Matt Prior was taking the ball at ankle height.
No, the delight in this pitch, from an Indian perspective, was that it did nothing to exploit their potential weaknesses. With only two of the team having previously played a Test in England, there was an opportunity for England to examine their techniques and temperament.
But, whereas during the 2011 series, some India batsmen struggled to cope with lateral movement or bounce, this time they have had to contend with little of either.
The disappointment from an England perspective was that there were moments which hinted that India's old failings remain. Even with a ball 80 overs old, M Vijay was struck by a short ball from Liam Plunkett that suggested that, on a more lively surface, he would have to work harder for his runs. And even on a day when there was so little lateral movement, Virat Kohli was drawn into poking at one that he could have left and fell to a slip catch.
But when Ajinkya Rahane attempted a loose drive before he had scored, the ball fell short of the slip cordon.
And when, on 32, he was discomfited by a short ball from Plunkett that hit his bat handle, the ball dropped just short of Alastair Cook at silly-point.
And when Vijay, on 102, was drawn into poking at one outside off stump from James Anderson, the ball again fell short of the slip cordon.
It was hard to avoid the conclusion that, had Nottinghamshire gift wrapped this pitch and tied a bow around it, they could hardly have made it more inviting to India. And in doing so, they have done a disservice to the England team.
Groundsman hopes pitch may quicken
In the circumstances, England performed admirably after a first session in which their disappointment for the surface was palpable.
Nine of the 14 overs immediately after lunch were maidens and the seamers gained just enough reverse swing to apply some pressure on the batsmen.
Cook utilised his bowlers in shorter spells and employed some unusual fields, too. Plunkett bowled with six men on the leg side at one stage, while Anderson picked up the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara after posting a straight, short mid-on and pursuing a strategy of bowling resolutely full and straight. It was one of the only tactics available to them in conditions offering so little
And Prior, moving ever closer to the stumps to combat the low bounce, enjoyed a good day in desperately tough conditions. After taking an excellent catch to dismiss Shikhar Dhawan, diving low to his left to take a chance that probably would not have carried to first slip, he managed to avoid conceding a bye throughout the day despite the ball bouncing in front of him on numerous occasions.
It was not perfect, though. Moeen Ali was milked rather too comfortably, conceding 5.55 an over and being replaced in the attack, for a moment, by Joe Root. In mitigation, it might be remembered that Graeme Swann conceded 97 runs in 15 overs without taking a wicket in the corresponding Test here in 2011.
In the longer-term, the ECB needs to grasp the pitch issue. The game is not so popular in the UK that it can afford to produce such pitches so often.
It matters not if there is an exciting finish on the fourth or fifth day. Erosion may cause a dramatic rock fall, but it does not make the previous 10,000 years entertaining.
Such pitches are no longer an occasional variation, they have become the norm. Groundsmen centrally contracted to the ECB might solve the issue of corporate pitches designed to please county chief executives, though they will do little to combat the drainage issues that appear to have dried out squares around the country.
You might also wonder at the role of Paul Downton. While England's new managing director has found time to sack England's record run-scorer in international cricket, break the confidentiality agreement having done so and decided it is his place to sit-in on selection meetings, it seems he has not been able to intervene on one of the key areas of the game: the pitches.
If it is his role to help create a winning England team, it is his role to ensure surfaces that benefit his team. He might do well to focus on such core responsibilities and leave the headline grabbing to the players.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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