On a day when the Nagpur surface for the third Test between India and South Africa was rated 'poor' by the ICC, and less than a week after Rahul Dravid delivered a stinging critique of pitches used in the Ranji Trophy, the first day of Tamil Nadu-Punjab game saw 21 wickets fall. Seventeen of them went to spinners, but TN coach M Sanjay blamed his side's batting, and not the Dindigul pitch.
Punjab were dismissed for 206 in 57 overs and Tamil Nadu were shot out for 68 in the 24th, their second-lowest total in Ranji Trophy history. While Sanjay admitted to the TNCA rolling out a turning track to strengthen Tamil Nadu's chances of a knockout berth in a must-win game, he denied it was an underprepared pitch. "Basically we played too many shots too early thinking that the wicket is going to do [something]," Sanjay told ESPNcricinfo.
"There is turn and bounce, it is a spinner-friendly wicket, but they have got 200 , so it's not like it's a bad wicket. I think it's more in the mind than in the wicket.
"The odd ball kept low, but it was prepared to be a turning track just like India are preparing wickets for home games. We had to because we need to have to six points."
So did the ploy backfire after Punjab took the chance to bat first? "The toss doesn't matter at all on a wicket like this actually," Sanjay insisted. "In fact, it might be better bowling first on a wicket like this because the bounce is there. We didn't bowl too well also and we didn't field well, missing three-four chances."
Sanjay said the concept of an 'ideal' surface - one that assists the seamers initially before flattening out and eventually crumbling on the last day to bring the spinners into play - however noble was largely impractical. "We have seen pitches all over India in the last few years; it doesn't happen like that in reality."
"I don't think the curators really know to do that. Earlier they might have done it when the pitches were uncovered. But then they have standardised the preparation of pitches after experts were brought in from abroad and lot of scientific things went into it," Sanjay said. "Anyway India is preparing turners. You have to know how to counter that with certain skills that are different from playing seam bowling but they are skills anyway."
Dravid had recently come down heavily on poor pitches in this season's Ranji Trophy after several two- and three-day finishes. Sanjay felt it wasn't fair to generalise like that, and stressed on the need for tighter technique to succeed on such tracks, something Ravi Shastri had advocated recently as well.
"People are not understanding the differentiation. Because it's getting over in two or three days they are clubbing underprepared wickets with prepared ones [where matches finish because of other factors]," he said. "The Nottingham pitch [in the Ashes], which got over in three days, wasn't underprepared, for instance.
"[For an] underprepared wicket, you don't water it, roll it, you just leave it like that, and it takes its course. The ball rolls, one kicks up, that becomes dangerous. These wickets are not dangerous; the bounce is consistent but for the odd ball.
"This generation, not just cricketers, doesn't have patience and perseverance. In today's game as well there were four or five soft dismissals. Other than R Sathish - he got a ball which literally rolled - and R Prasanna, who Harbhajan got out with a beauty, there were many soft dismissals: Dinesh Karthik out lbw deliberately padding; Abhinav [Mukund] top-edging a pull off a rank short ball; [B] Aparajith trying to sweep top-edged one; and Vijay Shankar being caught brilliantly on the line."
Dravid had spoken of the importance of looking beyond wins and develop cricketers for the international stage. While Sanjay agreed with this philosophy, he said the ground realities of the competition's structure couldn't be glossed over. "An outright [win] gets you double the points [as a first-innings lead]. The administration or the coach, team captain, especially when it comes to the last league game, are desperate for a win. You wouldn't have seen so many such matches in the beginning.
"It's true that if you keep getting wickets like this, you won't get runs and you will lose confidence. That's true. But out of eight games, you will play two or three games maximum. Otherwise five games are on phenomenal pitches," Sanjay said.
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo