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

A day of anti-cricket

This was just the sort of pitch that MS Dhoni has said he doesn't want, but it may just have given his side a chance after the slowness helped them contain England's scoring

It is often - rightly - said that a verdict on a pitch should not be delivered until Virender Sehwag has batted on it. We shall reserve the judgement then, but it is clear that this pitch is not made for attractive cricket. Only players like Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen are expected to rise above it. The same goes for bowlers, for if a patient batsman puts his mind to it, it will be difficult to get him out until the pitch starts breaking up.

The WACA Ground in Perth exposes ordinariness brutally. It has no time for those who are not good. However, if you have the right technique and shots, or if you are a good bowler, it rewards you handsomely. Nagpur was opposite.

On Thursday, you could get away by just putting the ball there, and wouldn't be hit for runs. As a batsman, you could be beaten in the flight, you could make a mistake, and yet you could recover by going back in the crease. The converse held true. There was no value for shots because the ball just didn't come on. The fielders had only half the ground to defend - forget about scoring runs behind the wicket - and there was no value for the shots even if you beat the pitch and timed them. As a bowler, debutant Ravindra Jadeja said there was no bounce, pace or turn on offer. All you could do was defend and prevent boundaries. The first day in Nagpur was anti-cricket for any neutral fan.

And you can't say for sure this was done by design. For starters this is not what MS Dhoni has been asking for. In fact this is exactly what he has been saying he doesn't want. Understandably, with the home side going one-down into the series decider, the pitch has received no water over the last three days. It's possible India didn't know this pitch would turn out thus. Jadeja, who took two wickets, spoke of it with as much pain as a fan would.

"The wicket is too flat," he said. "It's slow. There is no turn. It's difficult for fast bowlers too. After pitching it loses all the pace. For spinners also there is no turn. All we could do was bowl stump to stump, and try to restrict their runs and boundaries."

Jadeja even said Ranji Trophy pitches are better. When asked about the jump he had to make from Ranji to Tests he said: "In the field I saw the huge difference," he said. "Ranji wickets are a little result-oriented. They favour either fast bowlers or spinners. You can call this a flat wicket. Neither did it turn nor did it go off after pitching for the fast bowlers. The quality of batsmen is high too."

If you listen to Jadeja, there is every chance this is not what India asked for, and also that they misread it. They played four spinners on it, including Jadeja, and only one seamer. Surely they were expecting more turn and bounce? Jadeja hasn't ruled out turn later in the match, though, which makes their losing the toss worse.

"I don't think we made a mistake," Jadeja said. "It's helping neither fast bowlers nor spinners. As the game progresses, it will start helping spinners. There will be footmarks in the second innings, we can work with them"

Whether by design or accident, this pitch did provide India some control over the proceedings. Dhoni likes to be in control of the game as a captain, he doesn't want to concede runs, he wants his bowlers to bowl one side of the wicket so he can concentrate on defending that half. His bowlers haven't been doing that, so the pitch did the job for him.

For major chunks of the day, Dhoni operated with the slip as the only man behind square. Yes, there was an improvement in the fielding with Jadeja joining Virat Kolhi, but it was also an illusion created by having more men covering a smaller part of the field. Many a bad ball went unpunished because there was no pace to work with.

In the last hour, though, India seemed to have run out of the energy to work with the pitch. They didn't try to bowl as much as they could, which is a little ridiculous when you think of the 97 overs they bowled in six hours, but they did slow down in the last hour. The intensity was a little low, and they were happy to just protect the boundaries.

Considering the various stages the first day went through neither team will be too displeased with the 199 for 5. England came back from 139 for 5, and they know they will be bowling last. India, on the other hand, had lost the toss, had to counter Pietersen's innings, and then came back through an impatient shot from the best batsman on the day. For similar excitement to be manufactured, you might need more impatient shots throughout the Test. Or Sehwag might prove us completely wrong.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JIGNESH on December 15, 2012, 1:17 GMT

    @ Adam Gibson, I am not supporting my team blindly. You should read my other comments at other pages. Everyone talking about the bad pitch, but the pitch won't make the big difference. You said I should look at Sehwag's wicket, but I know Sehwag is not a test batsman; moreover, he is tired so easily and lazy. Basically he is not fit for longer version of cricket. Sachin Tendulkar who should have retire when he blasted his 100th ton, but looks like he won't until kicked-out. Gambhir has played his 50th test innings without blasting century and always gives his wicket at sleep cordon or behind the stumps....comes forward 3-4 steps to take run at every shot. Dhoni has no class playing any format of cricket. Dhoni's almost all shots go in mid-on and mid-off area. If opposition put both of the position close to the wicket, Dhoni gets stuck. ODIs experts-Kohli, Raina, and Yuvi never become the test batsmen no matter how many chances they would have. So my team is nowhere near the great.

  • Manzur on December 14, 2012, 12:32 GMT

    After the retirement of the great due(Rahul & VVS) and another one (Sachin ) is about to , these Indians crops are morally robbed. For the last one year or so , they are on a losing trail. They simply don't have the belief that they can win five days matches regularly especially on the home turf. When it comes to test cricket, these juniors are serious under achievers. And board's decision of playing less tests isn't helping the cause either.

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 12:13 GMT

    This is the sort of pitch most England fans were expecting all along (and credit to MSD for not asking for four of them at the outset). It suits wristy players over straight batters. It wears down fast bowlers by attrition. It has uneven bounce which favours concentration over shotmaking. And it will turn a bit later. This all points to a pitch India should prefer, if it wasn't for the series situation. But India lost the toss. Now an under-pressure batting line up has to face a rejuvenated England with respectable runs on the board. England did not play slow to engineer a draw. India set fields to nullify run scoring, as they usually do. But England are no longer the skittish insecure batters who let their wickets tumble in batches. And India have to take risks now to get back in the game. This is Test cricket. And this test is a real test - of nerve and concentration. Anyone who wants to see strike rates over 80 can go watch limited overs cricket

  • Samar on December 14, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    India should play teams like Zimbabwe so that they might look like a good side. Now its time everyone should accept the fact that the Indian team is no more any good team(batters) .. This team needs a big over hauling .. Sack Shewag,SRT and Dhoni first , they are liabilities to the team .. SRT is too slow and gets bowled most often, Shewag a flat track bully and MSD never a test player ..Give some performing young guys some chance.. This English team is too much a heavy weight for team India.

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 12:00 GMT

    KiwiRocker needs to chill a bit. He obviously forgets that it took NZ 30 odd years to win a Test match!! Why abandon this game? The pitch isnt dangerous. Lots of people and companies have paid huge amounts of money to be in Nagpur, you would deny them watching a sport they love because the wicket is lifeless?

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    what ever pitch is given neither Sehwag or Sachin can do any wonders this test match. Indian batting became a pathetic affair, do not know the reason. But pitch does not matter anymore because Indian batting is depending a lot on Ashwin rather than the top 5. Why is so much analysis on bowling of Indian team, batting was very pathetic in Mumbai as well Kolkata. So, I won't be surprised if India lose the Nagpur test as well. Team India always depend on batting and right now they have no clue how to play against Swann, Panesar, Anderson and others. All these bowlers are playing for England very long and Team India did not plan how to play against them. So, Team India is not preparing well for tests. India will lose this game and I am very sure abt it.

  • praveen on December 14, 2012, 11:34 GMT

    Time for Indian fans to accept that they are not a good enough side anymore. When we did win a few test matches abroad it was because we were lucky to have some top class players all at their peak playing together.We were number one in the rankings but we never dominated the way the Aussies or the Windies did. If India ever want to be a great side then our whole set up has to change.Test cricket has to be the number one priority. Scrap the IPL and play a t20 league along with the Ranji trophy.Or base your IPL salaries on how many test matches a player has played. Its shocking that Ravinder Jadeja/robin uthappa have made more money than Ponting or Laxman. But I dont think the BCCI cares. In a few months the IPL will be on,RAina will score 30 runs of 10 balls and most people here will think he is the best cricketer in the world.

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 11:23 GMT

    Unbelieveable, to me, that this article has been published here - there are hol;es right throughout this piece and, funnily enough, they've all been picked up on. Where are the editors?

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    @Jaggadaaku, I understand your bias - you support your team and there is nothing wrong with that - but this is a terrible pitch. you said the english batsman batter slow? well looks whats happened. "you cant judge a pitch until sehwag has batted on it" well ask his middle stump how the pitch is playing. ICC needs to grow a pair. no wonder test cricket is in a bad state, especially in india, if this is the sort of rubbish their poor fans have to watch. a spinning pitch makes for fantastic cricket. the first 3 games were very entertaining this is just boring

  • Ali on December 14, 2012, 10:47 GMT

    Absolutely agree with KiwiRocker!! ICC = Indian Cricket Council Period.

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