Australia in India 2016-17 March 14, 2017

Will slowandlow be the way to go in Ranchi?

The Bengaluru Test may have given India an idea of the conditions that could suit their spinners better than their Australian counterparts
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Will Ranchi be a friend or a foe to India's aspirations? © PTI

Turn and bounce. The two words are used so often in tandem that they coalesce into one predatory creature baring its fangs at batsmen - turnandbounce - rather than quantities that occupy two distinct axes on a graph. There are times, though, when a spinner lands a hard-spun delivery on just the right length and gets the pitch to respond to all the revolutions he has put on the ball and actually achieves turnandbounce.

Nathan Lyon kept doing this, again and again, on the first day of the Bengaluru Test match. Cheteshwar Pujara turnandbounced, popping a bat-pad catch to short leg. R Ashwin turnandbounced, gloving one to leg gully. Virat Kohli undone by an unexpected lack of turnandbounce, lbw without offering a shot.

Before the tour had begun, Lyon had watched hours of footage of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, studying the way the ball came out of their hands, the seam positions they employed to derive natural variation from Indian pitches. He had practised bowling with these releases - more sidespin, less topspin, occasional undercut - and prepared himself for the slow, low turners he was likely to find upon arrival.

On day one in Bengaluru, he simply went back to being Nathan Lyon and bowling like an old-fashioned Australian fingerspinner, with loop and overspin, and got the ball to jump at batsmen. Turnandbounce. A bit of first-day dampness on the topsoil of an otherwise dry pitch had created the perfect conditions for Mitchell Starc to create a premature rough outside the right-handers' off stump. Into this rough Lyon bowled, getting the ball to grip and spit at India's almost exclusively right-handed batting line-up.

As the Test match wore on, as the moisture evaporated and the cracks widened, low bounce became a greater threat to batsmen than high bounce. Lyon, though unlucky to have a couple of chances put down off his bowling, was less of a force in India's second innings. Their batsmen were able to go on the back foot and work him between short leg and leg gully without worrying too much about gloving the ball to either of them. Ajinkya Rahane was able to sweep him out of the rough without worrying too much about top-edging.

As the match progressed, lbw and bowled became far more likely means of dismissing batsmen. India's spinners prospered. Six of the 15 wickets Ashwin and Jadeja took in the match were either bowled or lbw. Lyon and Steve O'Keefe took 11 wickets in the match, there were no bowled dismissals by them and only one - Kohli in the first innings - was lbw.

In the process, India may well have stumbled upon the perfect formula for empowering their spinners while simultaneously nullifying their Australian counterparts. Slowandlow rather than turnandbounce. Too much turn, O'Keefe's straight ball - a delivery even Jadeja was unable to replicate with comparable frequency in Pune - becomes deadly. Too much bounce, Lyon roars. Slowandlow, perhaps, was the way to go.

Will Ranchi be a friend or a foe to India's aspirations? Will it be like Pune, turning so square the match referee rated it "poor"? Will it be like Bengaluru, its bounce so inconsistent the match referee rated it "below average"? Will it be something else entirely? Will it be, could it be, slowandlow?

Indian pitches, depending on their soil composition, are usually either red-orange and dry or pale brown and dry. On Tuesday afternoon, pitch No. 5 at the JSCA International Stadium in Ranchi was soaking wet and nearly black in patches.

There was barely any grass on it, and by the time Thursday dawns most of the dampness should have disappeared, but the surface probably will not begin as dry as Pune's did. Still, the absence of grass and the general look of the pitch have already led the media - particularly the Australian contingent - to whisper about conspiracies.

Tuesday's Sydney Morning Herald said Australia had "walked into an India-endorsed stitch up as suspicion grows the hosts have been delivered a tailor-made wicket designed to blunt Australia's pace weapons and dull the effect of Nathan Lyon."

AAP called it a "patchwork-quilt pitch" that "attempted to blunt the bounce of Australia's pacemen". Both reports used the words slow and low, though neither went as far as saying slowandlow.

SB Singh, the curator, had read these reports, and refused to talk about the specific nature of the pitch he was preparing for Ranchi's Test debut. He was, however, happy to chat about the art and science of pitch preparation, about percentages of clay and silt and specific minerals and their respective effects on pitch behaviour.

With a 60% clay content - responsible for the exaggerated darkening upon watering - Singh said the Ranchi pitch tended to crack rather than crumble under the sun, crumbling being a characteristic of red-soil pitches like those at the Wankhede Stadium. Like most other subcontinental pitches, he added, Ranchi's soil was high in silt - giving it a consequent tendency for slowness.

This was as far as Singh went; he would not say how this clayey, silty strip would behave on Thursday and thereafter. Turnandbounce, slowandlow, or something else altogether? We will have to wait and watch.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CricFan Indigo on March 16, 2017, 5:44 GMT

    The impression that the Aussie media has created it is that this Aus side is under equipped to play cricket except their own backyards. So, the best thing is to start blaming the floor when you can't dance!!

    And for those who claim that India should be barred from hosting Test cricket can continue to live in their Utopian stoicism. Staying happy never goes out of style... as long as it stays between the two ears.

  • engrahmad on March 16, 2017, 4:31 GMT

    95 % dismissals vs left handers r from around the stump.

  •   Santosh Kanigicherla on March 16, 2017, 3:42 GMT

    So many people here are criticizing for pitches offered during series, but don't forget this is Indian summer and weather conditions play huge role in crumbling,cracks widening etc. Wickets offered during NZ and Eng series were sporty as they were played during winter. If you want flat tracks or bouncy pitches better stay in Australia, what is the point of sub continent tour if you are complaining about inconsistent bounce, turn and bounce, slow and low. These are the traits of sub continent pitches and stop being hypocritical. Ever ground is known for something and that's why cricket is so exciting.

  • RightArmUltraSlow on March 16, 2017, 2:54 GMT

    If the world keeps seeing pitches like the ones India doles out, anyone can win a match but the loser is always test cricket. The art and privilege of watching seamers first for long spells then spinners and seamers again is gone completely. Now we have herath ashwin Lyon etc opening the bowling on pitches that look like wrestling pits in India.

    Unless India is barred from hosting tests for 2 years as a ban emerging from their insistence on preparing third class wickets to suit their premier spin bowler who has 201/270 odd wickets in India with probably all but a couple of his 25 five fors at home, we will always have to put up with substandard quality of cricket.

  • Bill on March 16, 2017, 2:41 GMT

    From what we have seen of the pitch on television, this will probably be Ranchi's last test as well.

  • #BradmanForever on March 15, 2017, 22:05 GMT

    Oh my gosh have you guys seen the pitch for the ranchi game. Im warning you, be prepared for a massive shock. This is the worst pitch i have ever seen,5 times worse than pune pitch. It is black. In Australia an under 10s game wouldn't be allowed to go on on this pitch. I still can't believe what I've just seen.

  • TestCricRox on March 15, 2017, 21:50 GMT

    Please, please not another unpredictable bounce turning bunsen.... As an indian am tired of this.....cant see the merit in our victories when its not the skill of our guys but the conditions that defeat the opposition. @ CRICMYSTIQUE ON MARCH 15, 2017, 4:25 GMT - terrific points buddy - yeah the pitches for ind vs SL 2015 in SLwere the perfect template for SC pitches-had bounce spin et all.... frankly, the banglore victory sounds so hollow, do we really have to stoop to such depths when we are more than capable of mixing it with the best on true bouncy wickets? I suppose a time will come when we have green bouncy wickets and still win, hard not impossible and when that happens-more sweeter will be our victories, cricinfo plz publish

  • cricfan07744178 on March 15, 2017, 13:56 GMT

    I truly believe this wicket makes for a 'win the toss win the game' situation. If Aus lose the toss they will certainly lose if India does they will have to score a mammoth second innings total while not conceding many bowling first to win, which they are capable but still unlikely to do.

  • uncanny on March 15, 2017, 11:08 GMT

    With starc out of the picture, indian pacer will be more than handful on hard surface which can scuff the bowl very early. Batsmen paradise until bowl reverses, and with older bowl even spinners will get help, obviously not a rank turner.

  • cricfan8995251077 on March 15, 2017, 11:07 GMT

    We should leave the pitch preparation to Australian media, I am sure match will be over in 1 day. LOL! I am sure even the players would not worry so much about the pitch, they just get on with the game in what is turning out to be a blockbuster series. It has made test cricket viewing great again !

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