'The pitch was no good to anybody'

The post mortems have seldom been so exhaustive, tedious or varied in their verdicts. Two days after the drawn Ahmedabad Test, Indian newspapers can't get enough of comment from former cricketers. The inability to force a win raised many questions: Were the Indians too defensive? Were New Zealand more resilient than expected? Was the pitch at fault? The answers depend, almost entirely, on which newspaper you read with your morning cuppa.

Asian Age readers were treated to Geoffrey Boycott, never short on words, and fast strengthening his standing as the darling of the Indian masses. "Could India have done anything different to win the match? I don't think so," wrote Boycott in his column. But a scapegoat is needed. We must have someone to blame for every match not won. "Blame should lie fairly and squarely with the guy who prepared the pitch. There was no pace, no movement and no spin. It never gave the bowlers a chance and batsmen found it easy to stay in and defend but became frustrated at not being able to play shots. This pitch was no good to anybody."

Nadeem Memon, the curator, may have struck Boycott off his Christmas-card list, but he won't be the players' favourite either, if you believe Boycott: "Even the players don't enjoy this sort of cricket. They do their best and keep their mouths shut. Any critical comment would be frowned upon!" The players might have to be diplomatic, but Boycott does not. "Slow, low pitches like this do harm to the game."

Another opener, the not-so-orthodox Kris Srikkanth, did not buy into Boycott's logic. The Times of India took the trouble of listening to what Srikkanth said on TV and reproduced it for its readers. "I'm disappointed. Kumble and Harbhajan were tired. That the wicket was flat is no argument. Tendulkar and Sehwag should have bowled longer spells. Tendulkar was flighting the ball well. We didn't show the killer instinct."

The Doordarshan studios must have a specific effect on people, for Madan Lal too thought that the pitch was not to blame. "Had the spinners flighted the ball a little more it could have made the difference. The New Zealand batsmen applied themselves and were successful in hanging on in the middle, especially in the morning. For the moment it is advantage New Zealand. They have learnbed a thing or two on how to negotiate spinners."

Sunil Gavaskar chose to be a touch more diplomatic than his one-time opening partner. "The draw will make Ganguly's critics sharpen their pens finding fault with his bowling changes, field placements and just about everything. The fact is New Zeland have come better prepared mentally and are thus tougher customers than their previous teams."

Glenn Turner, another former opening batsman (if English papers are dominated by former medium-pacers, India seems to like to see openers in print), told the Indian Express that there were no real gains from the game. "New Zealand might feel satisfied at getting out of jail and India may feel cheated, but there is no room for moral victory in this game; in my book no-one scored any point." He also spared a thought for the spinners: "There is bound to be some criticism of the spinners but the wicket was such a flat deck that their best efforts did not yield results."

Sanjay Manjrekar (who, thankfully, cannot be called a former opener despite having done occasional duty in that role) could not make up his mind about the Indian captain. "Ganguly has made it amply clear that he felt that the Ahmedabad pitch was responsible for the eventual outcome of the Test, he wrote in the Times of India. I would tend to agree with him, but not wholeheartedly. Now to give the pitch all the credit for the draw would be terribly unfair to the curator and the Gujarat Cricket Association."

Manjrekar also wondered why Ganguly seemed to lack a certain spark, conveniently glossing over the fact that he was suffering from an irritating groin infection. "So why was the spark missing in Ahmedabad? My guess today would be that the Indian captain just started off in a bad mood. The local association just did not support him where they could at the start of a very important game, signalling the start of the Indian cricket season. I think Ganguly, perhaps, went into the Test match just feeling let down."

Ravi Shastri, in his column in the Times of India, was full of praise for Anil Kumble. "New Zealand not only walked away with a draw, but also the honours in the first Test. India's trump card at home is still Anil Kumble. Remember, Anil did not play at home against Australia, else he would have finished with a bagful. He was under pressure to perform now, but proved yet again that on such wickets he is the best." Shastri, like Manjrekar, reckons that all was not quite well. "I sensed that the Indians got frustrated a little too early and surrendered thoughts of a win. Having been beaten 2-0 in the last series against New Zealand some more fire and ambition was warranted."

The debate, you can be sure, will rage on till the Mohali Test starts on Thursday, when there will fresh points to ponder over a cup of coffee.