Blame the batting, not pitch, says Ashwin
R Ashwin has hit back at the criticism of the pitch in Mohali, which South Africa batsman Dean Elgar had described as "not a very good cricket wicket" after 12 wickets had fallen on the first day. Ten more fell on the second day, but batsmen did show batting was possible on the pitch, which has offered a lot of sideways turn but not alarming bounce. Sunil Gavaskar had said in his pitch report that he "had never seen before" such a day-one pitch in Mohali.
"I think it's very important to bowl good pace on this wicket," Ashwin said after his five-wicket haul gave India the lead after they had squandered the toss advantage by getting bowled out for 201. "I have not seen any batsman defending and get out apart from the one that happened to [M] Vijay, where he thrust forward, defended and got out." Cheteshwar Pujara, too, got out defending in the first innings, but the larger point was taken.
None of Ashwin's five wickets came because of alarming misbehaviour from the pitch. Stiaan van Zyl offered no shot to a topsinner, which Ashwin got to come back in to the left-hand batsman. Dean Elgar slog-swept and was beaten in the air by the dip. Ditto Hashim Amla, who looked to charge at him. Dane Vilas got out sweeping, and Imran Tahir is a tailender. "To bowl [on this pitch] it's all about how it's coming out of your hand," Ashwin said. "For me it's coming out really well. So I don't think I require much turn from any pitch at this point of time."
Ashwin went on to compare the perceived reaction to green tops when India are touring outside Asia. "Honestly I think it's the batting that makes the wicket look what it is," Ashwin said. "I don't know if any Indian journalist knows the name of the curator in Johannesburg or Port Elizabeth, but we seem to get a hang of Daljit Singh [the curator in Mohali] very quickly. None of us go to South Africa and say the wicket is green, this much grass is less green at the bottom. I don't hear any such statements, but unfortunately here the first day some of my good friends came and said the wicket is a little drier and stuff. We have played way too long in Mohali to know how the wicket works."
Ashwin's words were keeping in line with Virat Kohli's emotions in the lead-up to the Test. "When someone comes to play here, there is a lot of focus on the pitch," Kohli said. "It is unfair to say that it spins a lot or that it is slow. When we go abroad, I don't think there is a single article about the pitch. We go there and take up the challenge. The other teams also have to take up the challenge."
It was not clear whose criticism Ashwin and Kohli were responding to, but it was true that day one did not feature great batting. The three Indian specialist batsmen that fell to spin on the first day did so because they did not reach the pitch of the ball, not because the ball kicked at them. However, there was sideways turn available on the first morning itself, and balls did keep low.
It is not accurate, though, that Indian players do not complain about perceived green tracks away from home. After India lost 4-0 in Australia, Gautam Gambhir and Kohli were two of the players to complain about the "green tops" while Australia scored heavily in every match. It was duly reported too.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo