Even if you don't go looking for it, you get comments on pitches in India. Before this Test began, in response to a photo of the pitch tweeted by the BCCI, Harbhajan Singh, India's most successful offspinner, tweeted it looked like a two-day-old pitch already, and predicted a finish in three-and-a-half days. With India batting for almost two days, people on Twitter began to ridicule Harbhajan. His response was to wait and watch for the turn, and that he got such turners only twice - Kanpur 2008 and Mumbai 2004 - in his whole career in India. He reckoned his and Anil Kumble's wicket tally would have been "something else" if they got the pitches India have been playing on in the last "four" years.
If this was unsolicited, R Ashwin's first answer at a press conference after completing his 20th five-wicket haul, which bowled New Zealand out for 299, was to mention how difficult a pitch it was. He was asked how important the other bowlers were - Ashwin got six, he ran two batsmen out, and Ravindra Jadeja got two wickets - and he looked bemused. He seemed to stop himself from answering sarcastically lest it be misconstrued, and said, "It was very important. It was a very, very difficult wicket to bowl on. The way Shami and Umesh bowled in the morning, they never let go of the steam. Especially Umesh bowled very quick through the day. Hopefully they can get some good returns in the second innings."
Tom Latham, the only man besides Rohit Sharma to have scored a half-century in each of the Tests, was presented a similar sentiment by a journalist. He was asked if he agreed the pitch didn't offer much turn or didn't crack up. Latham's response was sharp too. "Not sure what game you're watching," Latham retorted. "Certainly starting to turn. Lot of footmarks there. Might not be cracking up so much but there are dust and a lot of footmarks for bowlers to work with. They'll be targeting those in the second innings so got to find a way of rectifying that."
The truth about the pitch might be somewhere in between. It is not the classic Indian pitches that Harbhajan bowled a lot on during his day, but it hasn't turned out to be like Nagpur last year or even Kanpur this year. At the outset this looked a lot like the Kanpur pitch with a lot of cracks and expected to turn sharply from day two. It certainly hasn't because India have now been officially warned for two players - not in the act of bowling - running on the danger zone despite cautionary warnings from the umpires. Latham said it was not something they could worry.
"Out of our hands as players," Latham said. "We've got nothing to do with it, it's up to the umpires. They make the call."
However, it was wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who alerted the umpires just before M Vijay was officially warned for running on the danger area when batting on the third evening. On the second evening, Jadeja's transgression after three warnings - two informal and one official - had resulted in a five-run penalty for India and three demerit points for Jadeja. India didn't contest the charge, and Jadeja stands one demerit point short of being suspended for a Test or two limited-overs internationals.
Latham chose to not get involved when asked if he felt it was deliberate. "It's cricket," he said. "Guys are going to walk on the wicket. We've got a big job to do in the second innings. Going to focus on that."
India clearly feel the pitch needs to deteriorate more, which is one of the reasons why they didn't enforce the follow-on. Let there be more overs on it, let it bake more in the sun, and then give New Zealand somewhere around five sessions to bat to save this Test. Ashwin said they were going to take a call on when to make the declaration in the middle session on day four. He felt the pitch could do with some more wear and tear.
"We're just giving it every chance to wear over the time that we bat on over the next session or two," Ashwin said. "And see how it turns out. But from one side, from the Pavilion End, there is a lot of rough. From the other end it's not spinning a lot. Hopefully it will deteriorate."