India coach Ravi Shastri has made it clear that there was no ulterior motive behind reducing his side's warm-up match against Essex to a three-day game. In a brief interaction with the Indian media, his first on the UK tour, Shastri said the only reason behind dropping one day from the originally scheduled four-day match was to get to Birmingham and let the players switch to Test-match mode a day earlier.
ESPNcricinfo had reported that the Indian think-tank felt that gaining an extra day of training at Edgbaston, the venue for the first Test of the five-match series, would help the intensity of the players. Shastri confirmed it was indeed so. "(We are) getting in there, into the Test match venue, because it wouldn't have served the purpose here (Chelmsford)," Shastri said. "Instead of an extra day here, I think an extra day (of training) there would be more valuable. More familiarity with the venue and the conditions where you are playing the first Test. We had an opportunity to practise three days in Birmingham, which was the Test match venue. If we had played four days here we would have lost that one day there because of travel."
The decision to make the fixture into a three-day match was taken over the last two days. Shastri said the prerogative of whether to play a "two-day game, three-day game, four-day game, lies entirely" with the visiting team. Shastri also said the team management spoke to the Essex management about the tickets sold before making a final decision. "We were ready to even play a two-day game and use that one day (third) for full day of practice here, the centre pitch. But when they explained about the tickets we said fine we'll play a three-day game. And travel on Saturday to be able to practise on Sunday."
Shastri rubbished a media report that suggested the reason India had decided to cut down on a day's play was because they were not happy with the practice pitches at Chelmsford. The Indian players trained there for nearly four hours, including both spinners and fast bowlers bowling on different pitches, all of which were green. "Nothing wrong (with the practice pitches). There was no complaint from the Indian management about anything. On this entire trip, you will never see an Indian team giving excuses as regards to conditions or the pitch. Our challenge is to beat them. We take pride in performing wherever we go. We want to be the best travelling side in the word. So the last person who will make a complaint will be this Indian team."
Despite the toasty conditions, the challenges that are likely to confront the Indian batsmen for the rest of the summer arrived early on at Chelmsford. After Virat Kohli won the toss, India elected to bat on a pitch that was green and seaming. They lost Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara in the first three overs, and then lost their vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane an hour later. All three batsmen edged and were caught behind.
Shastri revealed that when the groundsman asked him on Tuesday whether India would be okay with the grass cover, he said it should be retained. "The pitch, good. The groundsman told me there was enough grass on, do you want the grass to be taken off? I said absolutely not. It is your prerogative. What you give, we play. I said leave it. There was grass there, so don't take anything off."