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April 1, 2008
The boring draw in the first Test in Chennai - 1498 runs and only 25 wickets - has put the pitch in Ahmedabad, a venue not renowned for results, in the spotlight. With Kanpur's Green Park traditionally being a ground that produces draws, it's up to Ahmedabad to ensure a result in this series. The chief curator Dhiraj Parsana is non-committal: he promises a sporting surface but remains unsure of what the weather could dictate.
"My crew and I have done our best to produce a sporting track. There's going to be a tinge of grass on the surface, which will assist the quicker bowlers," he told Cricinfo. "Traditionally the Motera [Ahmedabad] track has assisted spinners but the number of draws has been a worry for some people, I am aware of that. All I can say is that we have prepared a pitch that will make for a good contest. The ball could dominate early but there will be plenty in it for the batsmen too."
Three of the last four Tests in Ahmedabad have been drawn but all those matches were played during the latter part of the year - from late October to mid-December - when it is cold in Ahmedabad. In April, the weather is hot and muggy.
"Honestly I don't know what to say about that - it's an unseasonal time to be playing in Ahmedabad and if the weather factors in then the pitch could assist both pace and spin," said Parsana. "The heat will obviously sap whatever moisture there is and if it starts to crack, then it's over to the spinners."
India last played at the Motera Stadium in December 2005 and beat Sri Lanka by 259 runs; Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh snared 17 wickets and victory was achieved on the fifth morning. It was a spinner-friendly track then but there were no objections because both sides depended on their slower bowlers. However, before that win against Sri Lanka, the previous match with a decisive result was in November 1996 when India beat South Africa by 64 runs with Javagal Srinath taking eight wickets and Allan Donald seven on a cracking surface.
In between there have been dull draws highlighted by big scores and long innings; Sachin Tendulkar scored 217 here against New Zealand in October 1999 and Rahul Dravid 222 against the same team in October 2001.
It would be unfair to single out Ahmedabad, however, for the trend is widespread. Since April 2003, ten out of 21 Tests played in India have been drawn. Compare that to the other two countries where Test cricket is in good health in terms of money and attendance, and the statistics present a stark contrast.
During the same period there have been 28 results from 33 Tests in Australia and 27 out of 35 Tests in England. Three of the draws in Australia - against India in January 2004, Sri Lanka in July, and South Africa in 2005 - were matches that could have been won by either side even during the final session; unlike in India, where draws are often finalised on the fourth day.
A nearly 50% result ratio is not an ideal situation for India compared to 80% in Australia and England. India is the only place on the subcontinent where sizable crowds come to watch Test cricket but if this continues it's definitely going to affect spectator interest.
In the 1980s it was not unusual for low and slow tracks to assist their spinners but It's not about spin anymore, unless Kumble and Harbhajan turn in truly excellent displays, as they did against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad in 2005. The situation demands the BCCI's attention.
With the Indian Premier League kicking off this month the emphasis will be on producing featherbeds, such as the one in Chennai, and that's what the organisers want - comatose pitches which will assist the smash-bang ways of the Twenty20 format. As a result, an increasing number of Tests are being drawn in India when compared to other countries - a poor advertisement for the purest form of the game in its richest market.