India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Ahmedabad, 1st day April 3, 2008

Changing soil content makes Harbhajan see red

Harbhajan Singh can't find the red soil in Indian pitches © AFP
Fifteen months ago in Cape Town, Wasim Jaffer came to the press conference after day one of the Test and pleasantly described the pitch, on which he scored 116, as distinctly Indian. "When we saw the track yesterday, we were surprised how a pitch in South Africa could look like this," were his exact words.

Cut to the present, a day on which India were dismissed for 76, and Harbhajan Singh raised eyebrows at the nature of the Motera pitch while bemoaning the trend of draws in India. Dale Steyn, who took 5 for 23 to assist the rot, was also surprised but felt the greenish track played right into South Africa's hands.

"The last time we played here [in Ahmedabad] against Sri Lanka there was red soil. But now I don't see red soil anywhere, not in Chennai and even here the clay is not red," Harbhajan said. "It has been changed. Obviously, there is grass too. Every team plays to their strength [at home] and we should also do the same."

Despite reports that Anil Kumble and head curator Dhiraj Parsana were at odds against what type of surface should be prepared Harbhajan denied the pitch took the focus away for India. "Whatever wicket you get, you have to play on it," he said. "Obviously if the [home] captain was unhappy with the pitch and the curator didn't do anything about it then you just can't help it. The Indian team's strength is spin. No doubt we have good young fast bowlers but till today all the matches we have won in India are because of our strength.

"What we are seeing nowadays is that pitches are being changed constantly and the clay is being changed. Previously we used to get positive results for India, but now we see a lot of draws being played out and results going against the Indian team."

Steyn put the question back to India, questioning Kumble's decision to bat despite knowing what the track looked like. "I was surprised. I haven't played too much in the subcontinent, especially in India, and I've never seen a pitch like this, with so much grass," he said. "From what I read in the papers there was a bit of an argument between the curator and the Indian captain. They probably didn't get what they wanted. If they didn't get what they wanted then you have to ask the question, 'why did they bat first?' If you always thought it was going to be green then maybe you made the wrong decision."

Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, told Cricinfo that his side was extremely pleased with the track. "There were no hidden demons on the surface, but honestly, I am a bit surprised. It's a really good wicket for us and suits our bowling attack," he said. "Obviously, I would have expected India to play to its strength, which is spin bowling. It's from that point of view that I am surprised. The pitch was a little two-paced at times, but it was ultimately a good wicket."

In January 2007 South Africa swallowed their pride, regrouped, and went on to famously win the Cape Town Test by five wickets. How Indian choose to act here forth remains to be seen.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo