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

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