India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur, 1st day December 13, 2012

Mixed results for India's gamble

Having gambled with a slow, low surface, India will be pleased with their position but an extra seamer and bowling last could mean England have the edge

This was a bizarre day's cricket. It featured an ill-balanced attack against a sometimes ill disciplined batting line-up on as slow a pitch as England, at least, have played on this century.

That it generated a certain drama was more due to the position of the series than the thrill of the cricket. Indeed, as Test cricket fights for relevance, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that pitches like this represent one of the greatest threats to its future.

Some will rile at that. They will claim - quite rightly - that India have the right to produce any surface they like for a home series. But this is not a pitch that will suit India any more than it will suit England. It is sluggish and uneven and helps neither the batsmen nor the bowler with the greatest skill. It is not a pitch that rewards good cricket. It is not a pitch that rewards spectators; be they at the ground or watching at home. It is not a good pitch.

Progress, with bat or ball, can be made. But it can be made, for batsmen or bowlers, only with dogged persistence. There is some merit in that; Test cricket is meant to reward persistence and consistency, after all. But it is also meant to reward flair and skill and produce entertaining cricket and it cannot be ignored that around 40,000 of this stadium's 45,000 seats were empty. Who is going to pay to watch a run-rate below two and bowlers hoping to bore out batsmen?

India took a gamble with this pitch. Having been outplayed in the last two Tests despite designing the surfaces and winning the toss, they may have reasoned that, in normal conditions, they will struggle to compete with England. After six losses in the seven previous Tests between them, it is an understandable conclusion. Their solution is a surface that should negate pace or high bounce - two of England's strengths - and should also guarantee a definitive result.

That their gamble has, in part, come off owes plenty to some weak batting from England. While timing the ball was tricky throughout the day and run-scoring desperately difficult, all the wickets - with the exception of Alastair Cook, who was undone by an umpiring mistake - were due to batsman error. Certainly Jonathan Trott can have few excuses for leaving a straight one that hit his off stump, while Ian Bell's tame catch to cover will have done nothing to appease the growing band of cynics who question his long run in the team. He will know he surrendered his wicket too easily.

Of the five debutants England have utilised this year - Compton, Patel, Bairstow and Taylor are the others - Joe Root's has been the most impressive beginning

Such wickets tend to fall on these pitches, though. It is not that batsmen receive unplayable deliveries as much as the fact they face so few scoring opportunities. With the lack of pace reducing the opportunities to pull, cut, nudge or deflect, batsmen were obliged to wait for the longest of hall-volleys before going on the attack. Even long-hops - and Piyush Chawla delivers plenty - are problematic on such a low, uneven surface and, in their desire to force the pace, forcing shots offer catching opportunities.

But part of India's gamble has backfired. Not only did they lose the toss and give first use of the pitch to England's batsmen - it may be more appropriate to say they gave last use to England's bowlers - and it will have been worrying for them to see that Ishant Sharma, their lone seamer, was easily the most dangerous of the bowlers. Had he enjoyed some fast bowling support rather than a band of spinners for whom the surface offered little, England might have been dismissed already.

India can take comfort in the absence of the injured Steven Finn. He may have been a horrible proposition on this surface, though if England's seamers bowl with control, they too will surely prove hard to master.

That the day ended with honours just about even - it would be a brave fellow who tried to predict a par score on this wicket - was a reflection of some disciplined batting from Pietersen, an impressive debut from Joe Root and some typical defiance from Matt Prior and Trott.

If there are any question marks about Pietersen's greatness at this stage of his career - and there really shouldn't be - they focus on his inability to grind out runs in conditions where it is not realistic to counterattack and there are few release options. So that he failed to score from 154 of the 188 balls he faced speaks volumes for his discipline, his sound defensive technique and the begrudging pitch. He scored from only four of the 51 deliveries he faced from Pragyan Ojha.

Root was admirably unflustered. Though not especially tall, no-one in the England team with the exception of Pietersen gets as far forward as Root and few play as straight. His reach and intent provided run-scoring opportunities and at no stage did he allow any frustration to coax him into a rash stroke; even against the tight Ravindra Jadeja, off whom he scored just two singles in 32 deliveries.

Root's stand with Prior - worth 60 at this stage - rescued England from a precarious position and of the five debutants England have utilised this year - Nick Compton, Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow and James Taylor are the others - his has been the most impressive beginning. It says much about a team in transition and still searching for replacements for Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood that all five are batsmen but Root has already given himself an excellent chance of winning a longer run in the side.

Credit is also due to the England management who selected him. Root would, in normal circumstances, have had to wait behind Bairstow and, perhaps, Eoin Morgan for an opportunity. But, with Graham Thorpe providing encouraging reports about Root's ability to counter spin both last winter - during the Lions and England Performance Programme (EPP) tours - and during his century for the EPP squad a couple of weeks ago, he has leap-frogged his rivals. Bairstow looked unconvincing in Mumbai and Morgan has yet to prove that his struggles against spin in the UAE were an aberration. Root was selected partially as a "horse for the course" and took his opportunity well. It was noticeable that both Bairstow and Patel, though obviously disappointed, congratulated Root warmly as his Test cap was presented by Collingwood.

A glance at the first innings scores in the three previous Tests at the ground would suggest England are still in some trouble. In the first Test here, in 2008, India scored 441 and won heavily; in the second, in 2010, South Africa scored 558 for 6 and won by an innings and in the most recent, in 2010, New Zealand were bowled out for 193 and lost by an innings. But these are not normal conditions. England certainly still have work ahead of them to establish a strong first innings platform but they are not in quite such a precarious position as the scorecard might suggest.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cricinfo on December 14, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    @Tlotoxl and @Mitcher, point taken that broadly speaking crowds are attracted by exciting cricket but there are other factors that determine attendance. If eng were bowled out for 250 and india were 150 for not too many by end of day 2, you can be sure that crowd attendance would have surged for the 3rd day (which it would anyway being a weekend). Point being there are lots of factors that determine attendance including weekends/home team performance and so on and blaming it all on the pitch is taking it too far. Atleast this pitch is bound to produce a result, too bad it's not the result the crowds want to see.

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 12:23 GMT

    its so funny seeing many supporting playing in such sincerely hope that the team making this sort of negative pitch are caught in their own tricks...shame to them who also supports this type of is played with skill not by money.....its very nice to see arrogant, overpaid and overrated players are done and dusted in own is nothing but the victory to this glorious game of cricket.....

  • Mark on December 14, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    @cricket_lover1969 Strangely, India's run rate is almost identical to the English run rate. Do you now condemn the Indian approach? This is simply a difficult pitch to score fast on and is testing the skill of batsmen. I have no particular complaints with that. I do have a beef with the constant overuse of the word "whinge" to describe any opposing point of view but then...

  • rob on December 14, 2012, 10:50 GMT

    @ jimbond on (December 14 2012, 01:53 AM GMT) Completely agree. George is, well, not good. .. Likes to have a whinge, does George. .. At the time of writing India are 75/4 so it appears that there IS something there for the bowlers. .. ..

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 10:46 GMT

    MS dhoni is hanging on to captaincy b cos if he loses captaincy he also loses his place as there are better wicket keepers than him and his batting is dismal. He's loses cataincy its end of his cricketing career. Any way he made 300 crores.

  • Suman on December 14, 2012, 10:03 GMT

    @KiwiRocker --> Dude...grow up...Yes I agree that this is not a common pitch (means normal bounce, normal carry to keeper etc..) but then that is the challenge of test cricket. I still remember the pitches u guys produced in 2002 where little known ...hell even i forgot that bowlers name.. yeah i remember "Tuffy" became like Marshall. 1) Abandon this match -- > Are you CRAZY ?? 2) India's test Status --> Yes its been difficult with IPL and stuff..but a new team is in transition and once honi, Sehwag etc go out we will again rise. Bottomline -->India has always been and will always be above NZ. PERIOD.

  • Baskar on December 14, 2012, 9:50 GMT

    This is my third post -- Dobell doesn't like to publish what I write. But I will say this anyways -- the pitch is a fair pitch; yes it is not an English pitch but this is India. Test cricket is about playing in all conditions. There is nothing sacred about bounce, seam etc etc so those who keep talking about it are unwilling to accept that cricket is not about what is played in England, South Africa and Australia.

  • Shaukat on December 14, 2012, 9:22 GMT

    @KiwiRocker...completely agree with you,indian are desperate to win this test...

  • John on December 14, 2012, 9:04 GMT

    I am sorry, it was the ENGLISH approach to their batting which made it a bad day of cricket. The boundaries were left open, but they will not play a single aggressive shot. ENGLAND are only playing for a draw here, very obvious. So stop blaming the pitch, its fine, you will see when the other team bats.

  • Bobby on December 14, 2012, 8:41 GMT

    This has to stop. Where is ICC? Why ICC is not taking notice of all these negative tactics by BCCI. SL was recently penalized for a negative pitch and so should be the case with this Nagpur test. I do not recall any team in recent history that has been so desperate and gone to such great lengths to win a test match. India used similar extremely negative tactics during world cup by having all their matches scheduled nicely,using special cricket balls, 65M grounds and then using DRS when it helped them. Same was done for Indian team in recent T20 WC, where India was based at one single venue. The biggest irony is that India still lost. ICC has to stand up and show some leadership instead of acting as a servent. Two things needs to happen,BCCI should be questioned about this pitch and match should be abondoned.Secondly,ICC needs to review India's test status urgently as a team that has lost 10 of 12 test matches is not good enough to play test cricket!India was gona white wash England eh!

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