South Africa in India 2015-16 November 2, 2015

Intrigue around 'dry' Mohali pitch

Historically, the Mohali pitch has had a reputation for good true bounce but the focus, ahead of the first Test between India and South Africa, is on the seemingly dry appearance of the track

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Manjrekar: SA batsmen will be tested on turning pitches

"Three days - three or four days out from the first day - it looks dry than a pitch normally looks. That's all I can say. We are expecting [preparing] for the worst. We are expecting big spin on day one, and if we come to day one and it does that, it's not a matter of, 'Oh it's spinning, what do we do now?'"
- Faf du Plessis on the Mohali pitch

"It's going to be a sporting wicket. It will have the freshness on day one, will be good for batting the next two days, and then break up on the last two. Why should it turn from day one?"
- MP Pandove, secretary of Punjab Cricket Association

The intrigue surrounding a pitch just before the start of a Test series is one of the things to behold in our storied sport. Perhaps in no other ball game does the surface where the ball bounces vary as much as it does in cricket. In tennis, for example, you go from grass to clay to hard courts, but the Paris clay behaves somewhat similarly every year. You can look and tell. Cricket pitches can have minds of their own despite best efforts.

Everybody who is allowed near the pitch looks at it eagerly. On Monday afternoon, around 3pm, three Indian players and India's three assistant coaches came to the PCA Stadium in Mohali for an optional training session. Daljit Singh, the chief groundsman, got a call immediately that they had arrived. So he took an assistant with him and walked towards the pitch. The first thing Virat Kohli and the coaches - Sanjay Bangar, B Arun and R Sridhar - did was walk to Daljit and the pitch. Oh the suspense around the pitch.

Like a good Punjabi boy, the first thing Kohli did upon reaching the square was touch Daljit's feet. Daljit patted the youngster's back. Intense discussion around the pitch followed for about 10 minutes in which Kohli spoke little. Arun, the bowling coach, seemed to do most of the talking. Bangar shadow-practised at the top of the pitch, and looked intently at a good-length area. Before the Indians arrived, Daljit had asked his groundsmen to make brushes by intertwining a coir rope. Four of the groundsmen then began to scrub the surface with those brushes. To bring some sheen without shaving off the grass, a groundsman said.

Most of the curators guard their pitch zealously. Daljit did too. On Monday you could have a conversation with him about any old thing but the pitch for this Test match. The pitches are so in focus because towards the end of his Test captaincy, MS Dhoni finally managed to convince Indian groundsmen to prepare pitches that began turning from day one. More intrigue is added by the controversy around the pitch in the last match that India played. Sudhir Naik, the head groundsman at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, complained to his state association that he and an assistant were abused by India team director Ravi Shastri and Arun, because they didn't like the surface on which South Africa batsman amassed 438 in 50 overs. Dhoni's parting shot after the ODIs was a call for surfaces similar to the ones on which India beat Australia 4-0 in 2012-13.

The pitches are so in focus because towards the end of his Test captaincy, MS Dhoni finally managed to convince Indian groundsmen to prepare pitches that began turning from day one

There is every reason for South Africa to not trust the surface even though it looks green. The grass will obviously be taken off closer to the Test. Du Plessis says the pitch is unnaturally dry for a surface three days before the start of a Test. He says it would be a concern for them if they were not expecting it. He has followed with some amusement the whole saga of the Mumbai pitch.

"I don't think they would be complaining about the wickets if they were winning," du Plessis said. "I think it's a reason to perhaps shift their attention from losing. For me one-day cricket is about runs. You don't pitch up to a game expecting 180 plays 190. One-day cricket is about entertaining the crowd. That last ODI game in Mumbai was great for the fans.

"I do think they are perhaps putting a little bit of pressure on the groundsmen to give them the wickets that they want because they know the slower the wickets the more they are in the game. But we are expecting that - and we did expect it in the one-dayers - and if on the day it changes then you have to just adapt your game plan to it. The way the wicket is looking at the moment perhaps that [India's complaining] has worked."

Historically Mohali has had a reputation for good true bounce, but this is now a 23-year-old square when it is advisable to relay squares about every 12 years. Spinners have won India Tests recently. The quicks have become effective mostly with the reversing ball. Yet it has never offered alarming turn to the spinners.

From a distance the pitch doesn't look alarming: an even covering of yellowish grass. How much of it will be retained depends on the weather over the next couple of days and perhaps more such discussions between Daljit and the Indian think-tank. From a distance, though, you can't tell how dry or hard it is. It must be said, though, that it is no longer hot in north India, which means it won't lose too much moisture in the coming days.

Three days to go, either South Africa are being alarmist or the PCA doesn't want to make a song and dance about a turning pitch tailormade for the hosts. This is not the end of conversations around the surface.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sabareesan on November 8, 2015, 11:53 GMT

    If India looses badly within 3days when we were in England,Australia,SA!!Those r perfect cricketing pitches but when Somebody else loose badly here people who carry microscopes to find the mistakes blame the pitches!!!The Balls where Faf,Amla Elgar got out were actually not turning at all,,For cricket genies who talk abt the wicket has to remember the new bal takes time to spin in any wicket,but SA played badly n lost wickets!!!

  • S on November 4, 2015, 9:29 GMT

    @KARTHICK - "SA also has good spinners" They don't and they never did.

  •   Karthick Krishnan on November 4, 2015, 8:12 GMT

    SL prepared very good sporting wickets in the recent series - had for everyone. Why can't India do something like that? It will still have 'Home' essence... Not sure why we desire spinning wickets! Remember SA also has good spinners and they play spin better than any visiting teams.

  • Manika on November 4, 2015, 5:08 GMT

    Here comes the true cricket- test match format- which brings a lot with itself , a test , a test on different surfaces , here , a DRY pitch , well a turning pitch is the true test of a batsman and if this is a square turner , which is what is expected , it would be cracker of a game. People are funnily saying ( or say fear of turn ) , that pitches must not offer turn from day 1 . WHY ?? Don't green tops offer substantial , swing form ball 1 , i hope that is considered beauty by many people. 10-5 wickets are considered a test . I hope this is a rank turner where ball turns from ball 1 and we get 10-5 score of SA , and then people will say bad pitch. Accept everything , do not fear . Test cricket means challenges , and do not have double standards . A green top , a rank turner or a bouncy pitch are of same category . Seen many articles praising perth , gabba , durban , headingly as great surfaces , so are all rank turners one. Go India go and win the series.

  • lalit on November 4, 2015, 0:06 GMT

    well already Faf has started feeling the heat......if you are no 1 team in the world just prove it dude!!!!You were very lucky not to be tested on turning wicket except in Chennai...When there was a discussion about Mumbai's dead pitch,it never meant to have a pitch 180-190,rathrer a Chennai kind of pitch where 280 is enough...Do you think 280 is pitch is substandard or less entertaining pich for any odi????And when India travelled SA didn't the ball swung in t20 as well as in ODIs????Aren't you lucky India didn't give you turning tracks in limited over tournament????

  • Hiren on November 3, 2015, 21:30 GMT

    I was flabbergasted to read the comparison of tennis and cricket... !!! You just cant do that, plain and simple. The VARY of pace, bounce, the degree of swing, the trajectory of spinner, this and many more things make game called Cricket. For your reading Sid -

    Last I checked I didn't hear anything from Federer about "Less grass at Roland Garros". And @Faf - players like Lara, Sachin, Kallis, Sanga,etc never ever made any comments about swing or spin or grass or cracks - NEVER. Period. They just went ahead with their business, and may be that is what made them Greats.

  •   Vinoth Kumar on November 3, 2015, 17:46 GMT

    RAJESH_INDIA_1990, No.1 Ranking ? Ha ha ha , joke of the century. except in eng 3-1 loss, not able to won even single match in SAF,NZ,AUS . Talking abt No.1 ranking, ha ha ha .... this website need some comedies, but it should be meaningful not like ur meaningless joke. See every team have weakness , non asian teams bit struggle agst spin and asian teams stuggle agst Pace bowling. But last tour to SAF , they didnt change the pitch as per their tradition pitches, otherwise how can our batsman score that much. Do u know even in Ind few years back ind we were all out for 70+. Whether SAF will win test series or not, they already proved best in test cricket, for the past 9+ years never lost a test series in away. This was mindblowing performance ,noone have this record, as a genuine cricket fan we should appreciate that instead of talk meaningless. SAF won t20 & odi both series in Ind which was great. but we were not able to win one match there.

  • karthik on November 3, 2015, 17:03 GMT

    always the same hullabalo when playing in India. Yet we should "expect" swing and grass in England and bounce and pace in West Indies, Australia,....

  •   Ravi Keelveedhi on November 3, 2015, 16:33 GMT

    A timely reminder on MOHALI pitch Sidarth Monga. If we analyse the results at Mohali, India has the upper hand winning 5 out of 11 matches played here. India like in Chepauk Stadium( where they won 12 tests) has most wins here. India lost the only inagural test here to Windies when they were peaking and Kenneth Benjamin ran through the Indians in the 2nd Innings. Only on one occasion it played juicy in 1999 when the Kiwis led by Dion Nash skittled out India for a paltry 83 runs on the first day and of course India recovered in 2nd Innings by amassing 505 runs. Out of the 5 wins, Indian spinners did take major cake by scalping 70 wickets in aggregate. So, it played true to the indian tradition of spinners creating havoc against opponents. But it was never a rank turner on all the occasions. It did help the seamers initially and then the spinners exploited the trough later part of the innings.

  • tanveer on November 3, 2015, 14:56 GMT

    Ashwin and Jadeja will be smacking their lips in anticipation, this pitch will be a disaster for SA and they will have a zero chance of surviving this test if Ind win the toss. Will be nice to see how Amla, ABD and Faf handle Ashwin and Jadeja.

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