India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day February 25, 2013

India's spinners thrive on spiteful pitch

Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja's improved showing in the second innings was a result of better application, aided by a dirt-lane of a pitch which the Australians found hard to read

At the tail end of his interaction with the media at the end of the third day, Virat Kohli was asked about whether India would fancy batting a second time on Chepauk's flaky, wafer-biscuit wicket. "Definitely not," he said to much laughter around him.

Thanks to Moises Henriques and Nathan Lyon, though not in the manner Australia hoped on Sunday, India will definitely have to bat again in this Test. They will go back into their dressing room thanking their captain for a double-century of monumental speed, size and importance which gave them a lead of 192, against Australia. Anything less now appears a trifle.

Two Indian spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja, were able to put in a far more commanding performance than they did in the first innings. There would logically be two factors at work here - the nature of the wicket and the inexperience of their opposition. More than assistance, the surface offered active intervention. The Chepauk wicket now resembles those dirt lanes that wind between fields in the Indian countryside. With every passing day, its pristine, clean core has shrunk into a smaller and smaller oval shape. With its turn, bite, zip and bounce of varying predictability, what the Australian batsmen found in the second innings was a surface so alien to them, that it would be like going out to bat on the moon.

Jadeja, whose tight line brought him 2 for 68 in 26 overs, shrugged. "I think this wicket is fine for Test cricket," he told the media in Hindi. "In Indian conditions, this is the kind of wicket there is. You can only win Test matches if you take 20 wickets, don't you? There's not much damage on the centre of the wicket for the fast bowlers. Whatever is happening is from their footmarks."

India's two seam bowlers mostly have had to play fielders and tailenders. In the Australian second innings, Ishant was brought on as late as the 76th over. A joke that went around in ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary that he was merely turning up to use up the overs before the second new ball, turned out to be true. The first three overs with the new ball were sent down by R Ashwin and Jadeja.

Jadeja is only into his second Test and he remembers Nagpur where he made his Test debut against England late last year. The pitch was slow and offered little assistance. Chepauk to him, trying to find his feet in the Test team, must be a candy store. With much going on by way of unpredictability, the spinners floated the ball in and found a smooth groove.

Jadeja's line stuck to off and off and middle stump, he tried to prevent himself from slipping down leg against the right-handers and used the familiar repetitiveness of his action to slip in variations using a stump-to-stump line. Harbhajan Singh, who ended the day with 2 for 55 from his 27 overs, found himself on familiar turf, bowling fuller and he said later on television, with more energy. "I wasn't following through from my action in the first innings, I was bowling and standing, not pushing myself. We bowled well as a unit today."

Apart from individual effort and attention, bowlers snap into efficient collective discipline when the wicket is helpful and the opposition flounders. India were well served all around - Phillip Hughes will have nightmares about the Jadeja biter that shot up into his face and nipped his glove. Michael Clarke fell when one kept low from Ashwin and shot through to hit him on the pad. Matthew Wade tried to sweep a straight ball from Harbhajan after 23 minutes of survival, Peter Siddle did the same against Jadeja.

The total either player wanted India to chase on Tuesday did not extend beyond 75. India-Australia Tests in Chennai in recent times have had a habit of being, by and large, dramas of excruciating tension. The 2001 series went down to the final session of the final day. In 2004, Australia came to Chennai 1-0 up in the series. India were set 229 to win and the boundary off the last ball of the fourth day cannot be forgotten. Virender Sehwag, that most sociable of competitors, bashed Glenn McGrath down the ground for four. He tucked his bat under his arm and walked off stone-faced, without a sideways glance at anyone. India needed 210 more to equal the series. Except it rained on day five and washed out play entirely.

That is not about to happen because that was October and we are well into February. The worst the weather report says for day five is 'partly cloudy sky' with the chance of rain being 'nil.'

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Natarajan on February 26, 2013, 12:30 GMT

    On one hand we praise a wicket on the east coast of Australia that its bouncy and zippy - the ball could go for 6 byes - let alone it doesnt carry the batsmen along with it. And here on the other hand we whine about a wicket that has got variable bounce. How different is this one? I cant understand why are you crying. I am not sure if I remember anyone complaining that Aussie pacers with the help of the Perth wicket got all the 10 Indian wickets. If it happens in Australia, its good for cricket, but if it happens in India.. huh nah - not good - what kind of an attitude is that? Point is that any international player should be ready to face any kind of wicket. Hats off to Clarke and Henriques - they played well in this pitch. If Hughes could get nightmares on bouncer's from spinners he is not fit to play at this level which is the same as any batsman from India not ready to face Pattinson on Perth wicket. So pls stop whining. Good that you have not blamed IPL for this as well.

  • Simon on February 26, 2013, 12:19 GMT

    England showed that there is no massive threat from th Indian spinners, even on rank turners. You just have to be willing to be patient. Something that goes against the attacking style of nearly the entire Aussie batting order.

  • Duncan on February 26, 2013, 12:05 GMT

    For those discussing the pitch situation, I'll add my two Penneth.

    Any team is going to create a pitch that suits their playing style. English wickets favour seam, Indian wickets favour spin. That's been the case for decades and I see no problem with it at all. The issue I have with the situation in India was that the BCCI deliberately blocked England playing warm-up matches on spin-friendly wickets against high-class spin bowlers. That is deeply unsporting. Would the Australian board actively prevent a visiting team playing on seam wickets against good seam bowlers? Would the South African board? No. They would not.

    I take no issue with the Indian team over this. They are good players and produced an excellent game of Cricket against Australia. A really cracking match - but the BCCI have a lot to answer for.

  • Prem on February 26, 2013, 11:57 GMT

    I can't believe how unsporting Australians can be. Just because a pitch supports spinners, we have a comment asking why fast bowlers are being played? Did you even see the game? Or is there a spin phobia due to which they should always bowl after the fast bowlers? Really silly comments here.

    As for all calls of the pitch being a clay court, etc. what a load of crap! Looks like everybody follows Warne on his Instagram, cos neither did he nor did any of the commentators play a single ball on it. The ones who did, like Clarke, said it wasn't as bad as it was made out to be. A guy made a double century in 240 balls! Even in this report, we have jsut two wickets falling off balls that misbehaved. You can't have two misbehaving balls, then what's the point of it being an old pitch?

  • Allan on February 26, 2013, 11:33 GMT

    We prepare fast and bouncy tracks when the Indians come so they are entitled to do the same. Plenty of runs were scored on both sides so we need to stop complaining on the pitch and look forward to the second test where we can make a comeback. Lineup hopefully will be Watson, Warner, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Moses, Wade, Pattinson, Siddle, Lyon, Doherty.

  • John on February 26, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    I don't think India are way ahead of Australia and will clinch this series. Except for Dhoni's innings (which might not happen again) and Sachin's 81, the aussies played better cricket. Kohli should be more hungry for runs and not throw away his wicket so easily after getting a 100. Openers are regularly going to give us a bad start. Did anyone notice sehwag wearing glasses ? I think it is time for him to bid adieu with one final fearless finish. Dhawan should be a certainty for the next match. The Aussies were willing to fight the elements, India still do not have the fight in them.

  • Swastik on February 26, 2013, 11:14 GMT

    These Australian fans are hilarious. Who complained when Ashwin got no help in Australia? That's right -- no one. We didn't expect him to get any help. Here, your premier fast bowler gets some wickets, the rest don't. Why do you expect that every fast bowler, Tim Bresnan and Mashrafe Mortaza included, should get a fifer every time they play in India? I'd really love to hear an answer to that. I'd say that these pitches are a lot better than the ones in Australia; the best succeed and the rest don't.

  • Nick on February 26, 2013, 11:11 GMT

    The great thing about cricket is that the field and the wickets vary. Nothing wrong with this wicket. If Australia has failed to adapt, that is their fault and their problem.

    I think shield venue should be required to prepare a dustbowl in one first class game each year to prepare Australian players for these kinds of conditions. With drop in pitches that should be doable.

    Otherwise, this kind of thing will happen on every tour to the subcontinent.

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2013, 10:23 GMT

    I think the pitch deteriorated considerably on day 4. Before that it was a good batting track. This is how it is in India. Australia better get used to it or ready for a whitewash.

  • Chris on February 26, 2013, 10:23 GMT

    Some might say "spiteful" I would say "terrible". Seriously, why bother playing fast bowlers?