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Comment

India seem to have forgotten how they won in Australia

The marked tendency to produce result pitches shows they may have underestimated the visiting side

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
11-Mar-2023
Ahmedabad finally provided a wicket that made for competitive cricket  •  Getty Images

Ahmedabad finally provided a wicket that made for competitive cricket  •  Getty Images

Once again the pre-match media hullabaloo was about Indian pitch preparation.
Despite some outrageous predictions, Ahmedabad has provided the best batting surface of the series and opener Usman Khawaja determinedly took advantage to provide Australia with a big first-innings score.
If India needed tough practice for the World Test Championship, they got exactly what they wanted. Now they have to rely on other favourable results to reach the final and play Australia at The Oval in June.
The pitch furore has showed why it's annoying when people other than the head curator or groundsman are allowed to have an input into the preparation.
The head curator or groundsman is the best person to produce a presentable pitch. Like players, they are generally competitive and take great pride in their work. Good Test groundsmen all generally say they want to prepare a pitch that gives everybody a chance to display their skill and produces a result late on the last day.
The operative words are "a result". They don't predict or barrack for a winner.
This isn't happening in India, where some dodgy pitches have been prepared, often at the behest of people other than the ground staff. A good head groundsman in Australia when asked about specifically prepared pitches used to questioner: "B***er off and mind your own business."
India are currently in the spotlight for specially prepared pitches but they are far from the worst offenders. This aspect of Indian culture may well have been developed under English colonisation.
I was told in 1968 by ex-Australian cricketer and journalist Jack Fingleton, "Never trust the Poms." I was sure he was referring to the administrators and not the players. His words were proved prophetic in 1972, following the diabolical Headingley "fusarium fiasco", where a pitch was specially prepared to negate the effect of Dennis Lillee's pace and Bob Massie's swing. Not coincidentally, for the first time in the series, England included left-arm spinner Derek Underwood who was deadly on softer pitches. He claimed a ten-wicket haul in England's thumping victory.
England had previous "form" in special pitch preparation, which included the raging turner at Old Trafford in 1956. In that one-sided affair, offspinner Jim Laker took 19 Australian wickets for a meagre 90 runs in a resounding English victory.
If India needed tough practice for the World Test Championship, they got exactly what they wanted. Now they have to rely on other favourable results to reach the final and play Australia at The Oval in June.
Don't let anyone tell you that England aren't among the leaders in specially prepared pitches.
Australia may be guilty of administrative failures but pitch-doctoring is not one of them. In general, the nature of an Australian first-class pitch is similar to its Test match equivalent.
In the current environment it's easy to wonder if India have forgotten how they won their last two Test series in Australia. They completed two magnificent upsets by playing good all-round cricket on true, bouncy pitches.
India may have underestimated this Australian side. They are not the best Australian team to tour India but they are a good fighting unit, with some solid batters and a frontline spinner. Importantly, they've displayed a willingness to attack - albeit sometimes recklessly - at crucial times. They are worthy World Test championship finalists, but this vital competition may have brought to the fore a frailty in the system.
There could be a series of bowler-friendly pitches that result in shorter games with results. Current India coach Rahul Dravid made a sensible observation: "It's really about being realistic about what is a good performance on some of the challenging wickets we are playing on," he said. "If you look at the last three-four years, all over the world I think wickets have got a lot more challenging,"
Dravid's wise words expose the vast difference between flat white-ball pitches that favour punishing batters and spicy Test surfaces that tend to make batting aggression difficult.
There is a need to narrow the gap between the two extremes so that England's laudable aggression in Test cricket doesn't go to waste. Test cricket is an endangered species and any viable assistance is welcome.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist