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News

Batters could have a party on traditional Visakhapatnam pitch

"It might play a little bit better initially than it did last week," feels Ben Stokes

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
01-Feb-2024
India will be trying to level the five-match Test series against England on what looks like a traditional subcontinent pitch in Visakhapatnam.
The last time these two teams played a series in the subcontinent, an unexpected result gave rise to surfaces that were heavily loaded in favour of spin. The pink-ball match of that series ended in two days. It is the shortest Test match ever played in India.
This time, though, the focus on the pitches has been noticeably less. Hyderabad looked like it was selectively watered, with the spinners' good-length area looking rougher than the rest of the rest of the pitch, but it still produced over 1000 runs at a healthy rate.
And Visakhapatnam will probably be even better for batting. Ben Stokes at the press conference on the eve of the game said, "It might be a good wicket for maybe a day or two. But out here in India and other parts of the subcontinent, you tend to see it start to spin more and more as the Test goes deeper and deeper. Even though it does look like there's a little bit more moisture in there, with the heat - and today is very hot again - any footholes and stuff like that might come into play the further the Test goes.
"It might play a little bit better initially than it did last week [in Hyderabad], but we don't like to go in with too many preconceived ideas. We like to have some kind of idea because obviously that's how we pick the team, then we just play what's in front of us."
India have been hurt in the past on rank turners at home, notably in Indore when Australia bowled them out for 109 in 33.2 overs on day one. Matthew Kuhnemann picked up five wickets in nine overs then, belying the fact that he had only played 14 first-class games until that point in his whole career.
England's Tom Hartley did something similar at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium when he took a seven-for to follow up a first-innings display where he leaked a run a ball because there was considerably less help for him. And, as a result of that, India were much more confident in dealing with him.
This may be a sign that India are trusting the quality of their spin bowling to draw more out of a pitch that may not be as responsive as some of those in the past; that their experience will help them get one over on an opposition that will be fronting up with a debutant in Shoaib Bashir, who has ten first-class wickets to his name, to go with Hartley and Rehan Ahmed, who are on their first tour of India. Jack Leach, England's most experienced spinner, is out with a knee injury.
That India's batting has been taking some flak, and is now deprived of some of its solidity with Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja unavailable, may also have had a part to play. The coach Rahul Dravid has been clear that the young batters he is in charge of have had to face some tough conditions and that they need time to figure things out.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo