India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 3rd day November 24, 2011

A mortuary table for bowlers, and for Test cricket

Why is it that pitches that produce three-day results are scrutinised but ones that lead to dull draws are not?

Whose game is it anyway? Three days of play at the Wankhede Stadium have seen just 13 wickets fall. For the bean counters that want to see five days of play, it's the ideal scenario. For anyone who wants to see a semblance of a contest between bat and ball, it's a reminder that Test matches in India these days usually don't offer such indulgences.

The same venue hosted a nail-biting Test match in 2004, when just over 200 overs of play saw India earn a 13-run victory over Australia. In Kanpur in 2008, another seesaw contest against South Africa saw India victorious in three days. Both pitches were severely criticised by match officials, despite producing results and exciting contests.

Needless to say, concrete-like slabs in the Middle East and at venues like Motera - they could double up as mortuary tables for bowlers - escape such harsh scrutiny. If you extend such perverse logic to another sport, it's like saying that a 12-round contest between two lumbering heavyweights who barely touch gloves is preferable to a hell-for-leather Hagler-Hearns fight that ends in four rounds.

Bowlers from both sides, and MS Dhoni, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the surfaces that this series has been played on. When informed of that, Gautam Gambhir suggested that they should just get on with it, that batsmen have to cope with green tops from time to time.

"You don't get five wickets or a century easily in Test cricket," he said.

That cliché has been exposed often enough in recent times, with pitches getting more and more placid around the world. The lowest completed score from a top-order batsman in this game is Virender Sehwag's 37. Everyone else has made at least 50.

Darren Bravo batted beautifully for his 166, but if you were to compare it with Michael Clarke's 151 in impossibly hard conditions at Newlands, you might think you were watching a different sport. Not one innings played so far is worthy of comparison with VVS Laxman's marvellous 69 in that 2004 game. And it's precisely because batsmen don't get tested often enough that you see the collapses that routinely occur when there's a hint of swing, seam movement or sharp turn.

With Sehwag not batting long enough to make a result a strong possibility, there's every likelihood this match will descend into nothing more than a statistical exercise. Something worthwhile will emerge from it only if the harsh sun succeeds in causing the pitch to crack and crumble a little over the final two days.

Gambhir seemed to think that it might happen. "Things change very quickly in India, especially on red soil. If we can make 550, we have two quality spinners to put some pressure on them and get a result."

We can only hope that the soil listens. If not, this match will join an inglorious list of recent no-contests that act as nails in Test cricket's coffin in this part of the world.

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