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Match Analysis

The unpredictable Chattogram pitch: will it get better or worse for batting?

This is the closest thing to a sporting pitch in the country and it was clear to see on the first day of the India Test

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Taijul Islam was Bangladesh's best bowler on Wednesday  •  AFP/Getty Images

Taijul Islam was Bangladesh's best bowler on Wednesday  •  AFP/Getty Images

India's 400-plus total in the third ODI, four days ago, in Chattogram made everyone think we'd get a featherbed for the Test match too. Nope. There was actually a contest between bat and ball.
With both variable pace and bounce on offer, playing through the line needed close attention. Cheteshwar Pujara, who made 90 off 203, said that batters never feel set on this kind of pitch while Taijul Islam, the highest wicket-taker at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, said that they can't really predict how the surface will transform in in the coming days.
Taijul's observation is based on how sometimes conditions in Chattogram have an uncommon tendency to get better for batting as a Test rolls along. Sure, there have been matches where, like most subcontinent venues, the pitch wears and tears and becomes really tough to score runs on. But also times when it stops spinning after playing like a raging turner for the first four days. With Chattogram, you can never tell, really.
When talking about pitches in Bangladesh, the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka dominates the conversation. Then there's this one. Over the last five years, teams have scored anywhere between 242 and 374 runs on the first day of a Test match at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium. India's 278 sits somewhere in the middle of that list. But the six wickets they lost represent Bangladesh's best return after one day's play. Conclusion: this is the closest thing to a sporting pitch in Bangladesh (a few demerit points notwithstanding).
Taijul, whose three wickets on Wednesday included two superb deliveries to remove Virat Kohli and Pujara, said it best. "There's definitely a difference between the two wickets between the third ODI and this Test. If you look at the pitches from the last two or three years, the pitch actually gets better day by day. We can't really predict much about this pitch. It is difficult to tell; there aren't any big turning deliveries nor is the ball only going straight.
"And despite being the first day, the wicket's behaviour did go through changes. There was different behaviour with the new ball. There were fewer runs even when fewer wickets fell in some of the previous first days. But today they made more runs, but we would have been in a better position had we taken a couple of more wickets."
At the start of the day, TV commentator Sanjay Manjrekar observed that the pitch had a decent covering of grass but not enough to be considered a green top. He reckoned the grass was there just to bind the pitch together; to prevent it from cracking too much too soon. He expected India to play three seamers, but both teams went for the same combination - two seamers and three spinners - and the game was all the more compelling for it.
"There was variable bounce from the first or second over onwards," Pujara said. "The odd ball kept low. The same happened with the second new ball also. The odd ball kept low. I hope that we try to make the most of it.
"Once the ball gets old, it is slightly easier. Bowlers are also getting tired. They can't bowl in the same area all the time. We know as batters that the first 20-30 overs are always important with the Kookaburra ball. Things are slightly easier when you get through that phase.
"But you are never set on this kind of pitch; you have to concentrate hard for longer periods of time. One ball an over is turning [big] consistently. You can't relax as a batsman. It is still a challenging pitch for batters. I think it will keep getting worse to bat on."
Chattogram hasn't always been this way. In fact, to a team that either plays on green mambas when they go abroad, or dust bowls when they go to Dhaka, this ground was the one place where they could come and score bucket loads of runs. Of all the places that has hosted at least 50 first-class matches in Bangladesh, this venue has the highest batting average (33.06). For context, that figure for the Shere Bangla is just 29.34.
It's been good to opposition teams too. England enjoyed how it offered them pace and bounce in 2016 and Afghanistan were only too happy to push Bangladesh into their own spin-loaded trap in 2019.
Bangladesh's captains and coaches have started to discourage one-sided pitches. They often suggest, directly in the case of Russell Domingo, that the team should play on better pitches at home so that all skills are involved, and they aren't only considered a one-dimensional, spin-based side when they play abroad. Chattogram seems to have answered the call. At least for now.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84