Matches (17)
PAK v WI [W] (1)
IPL (2)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
WT20 WC QLF (Warm-up) (5)
Match Analysis

English attitudes towards turning pitches need to change

Chepauk surface has been challenging from the outset, but what else did you expect?

George Dobell
George Dobell
Well, what did you expect?
Did you think England would go on a six-Test tour of Asia and find seaming wickets, a Dukes ball and cucumber sandwiches for tea?
Since the dawn of time, home sides have prepared pitches to suit them. You could argue it would be negligent of them to do anything else. Complaining about this surface offering turn throughout is akin to going on holiday and moaning about the locals not speaking English or the lack of Coronation Street on TV.
That's not to say this Chepauk pitch has been a good surface. It would appear to offer disproportionate assistance to the side winning the toss and it would seem to weigh the balance between bat and ball too far towards the bowler. Indeed, from the first-innings dismissal of Ajinkya Rahane to the end of the England innings, the two sides lost 16 wickets for 214 runs between them. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that batting is a lottery, but it felt extreme for the second afternoon of a match.
But many Tests in England see conditions - the pitch, the ball and the atmospherics - which provide substantial assistance to bowlers, too. It's just the bowlers favoured tend to be seamers rather than spinners. And to some eyes, particularly those brought up on a diet of such conditions, that seems more palatable. That attitude probably requires reflection.
There weren't too many complaints when Ireland were bowled out for 38 at Lord's in 2019. Or when England were bowled for 85 earlier in the same game. And there weren't too many complaints when Australia were bowled out for 60 at Trent Bridge in 2015. Or when England went from August 2017 to July 2020 without registering 400 in their first innings of a home Test. Even on India's most recent tour to England, they were put in at Lord's in conditions that effectively decided the game within three hours. Isn't it unreasonable to consider seam and swing acceptable and spin unacceptable?
There are differences. In England, for example, the assistance tends to come from lateral movement. And, with players brought up in such conditions, England tend to capitalise on such assistance with the use of a Dukes ball and, up to a point, helpful surfaces. There's nothing wrong with it, either. It has produced some richly entertaining cricket.
The challenge is different on surfaces such as the one seen during this Test. With the top surface on the pitch unstable, the bounce of the ball may prove variable. In this game, the turning ball (though nothing from the seamers) has sometimes bounced much higher than might be expected. It has, as a consequence, tested techniques - and yes, fortune more than is ideal - in a manner the seaming or swinging ball might not. What the pitch here has not done - at this stage, at least - is keep low. That gives the batsman a chance, at least.
Is that good enough? Well, people will make their own conclusions. Most might accept this track is flirting with the boundaries of what might be deemed acceptable. But touring has always involved competing in conditions which seem alien for the visitors. It has always involved adapting techniques and accepting differences. The moment the tourists start feeling there is something unfair about that challenge, the battle is lost. As Chris Martin put it, nobody said it was easy.
There's no evidence to suggest this England side are suggesting anything of the sort. Indeed, they deserve some credit for reacting to some idiosyncratic umpiring with nothing more than rueful smiles. Nobody is suggesting any conscious bias, but we have seen enough in this match to remind us of the benefits of neutral umpires. If nothing else, their presence takes a toxic narrative out of the equation.
India took a bit of chance with this track. Reasoning that England had looked comfortable on the flat surface they encountered at the start of the first Test, they gambled on this pitch on the basis that their own batsmen and spinners would have the ability to take greater advantage of it than England's. At this stage, it appears to have been a gamble that has paid off handsomely. If they had lost the toss, though, they would have given England a really good chance to capitalise. There's a compliment in there somewhere.
The toss was disproportionately important in the first Test, too. By winning it, England gave themselves a chance to bat on an unusually flat surface. They deserve credit for taking that opportunity - they had the same chance in 2016 but failed to fully capitalise on it - but it would be disingenuous to pretend the toss didn't provide a substantial advantage.
Indeed, you could argue the toss was more important in the first Test. On that occasion, the pitch was probably too easy for batting for a couple of days and then deteriorated to the extent where deliveries were scuttling and jumping in the fourth innings. In the second Test, the ball turned from the start. It has deteriorated, though, and will continue to do so. Winning the toss, as it so often is, was an advantage.
So, how could England have improved their chances? Well, they could have cut out the loose deliveries in India's first innings. Moeen Ali, for example, delivered 10 full tosses and 19 short-of-a-length balls in the first innings of the match. By comparison, in the 49.5 overs of spin bowled by India in England's first innings, contained just one full toss. Had England been able to limit India to a score of around 250, they might have been able to compensate for losing the toss.
Equally, England's batsmen needed to give themselves more of a chance. In both first innings, batting looked more straightforward as the ball aged and grew softer. But, by the time England had batted 25 overs, they were five down. While the fashion of the day would have you believe that positivity is the best response in such circumstances, England might have put away the sweep until the ball was a little older. Batting was tough, no doubt, but if they could have reached the 25-over mark just two down, perhaps 250 may have been in reach.
Most of all, Rohit Sharma has made the difference. He seized this game with a match-defining century in the first innings and, one umpiring error aside, has looked relatively comfortable in the second. Nobody else has made batting look so straightforward. India's spinners have been better than England's too. Sometimes you just have to accept you've been outplayed.
In the longer term, English cricket needs to review its attitude towards spinning wickets in the County Championship. It is ludicrous to penalise Somerset for preparing surfaces which are, up to a point, similar to this and then sending England on tours where their inexperience in such conditions is exposed. More than half of England's winters are spent in such conditions; accepting that increased variety in county pitches would help their preparations seems a sensible first step towards progress.
Indeed, England have encountered spinning surfaces every bit as challenging as this in Abu Dhabi, Dhaka and Galle in recent years. There is no mileage in being shocked and appalled each time it happens. Nobody is claiming such surfaces are ideal, but they do seem to be a fact of life. The only way to progress is to learn and adapt and encounter such conditions more often. We don't want homogenisation of conditions, either.
There was a time when England used to mistrust anyone who could reverse-swing the ball or bowl a doosra. Over time, as they have learned such skills, the scepticism has diminished. It's time to embark on a similar journey with turning pitches.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo