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Feature

India may not mind more turning pitches despite Indore loss

"Honestly speaking, these are the kind of pitches we want to play on," captain Rohit Sharma says

India have lost only three home Tests in the last decade: Pune 2017, Chennai 2021, and now Indore 2023.
The Pune and Indore defeats have a lot in common. Australia won both times, Steven Smith captained them both times, and on both occasions, their spinners prevailed over India's on pitches that turned square.
No pitch can guarantee victory to a home side, not even a side as good in their own conditions as India have been over this last decade. And pitches that favour bowlers in extreme ways - whether via seam movement, turn, or uneven bounce - can give a strong away team a clear route to victory.
India know this. They know that turning tracks can leave them vulnerable to results like Pune or Indore. Even last week's Test match in Delhi could have ended in an India defeat, were it not for a first-innings fightback from their lower order and a second-innings collapse from Australia.
India know all this. But it's unlikely they'll stop asking curators for pitches that turn from day one. They believe turning pitches give them their best chance to win Test matches, because they maximise their strengths - the very strengths, in fact that, helped them win the Delhi Test from a perilous position: their spin attack, and the allrounders in their lower order.
"Honestly speaking, these are the kind of pitches we want to play on," India captain Rohit Sharma said after Australia wrapped up a nine-wicket win in Indore. "This is our strength, so when you're playing at your home, you always play to your strength, not worry about what people outside are talking about.
"We want to play to our strength, and that strength is spin bowling and that batting depth. And everyone uses that advantage outside [India], so what's wrong in that? We've got to do that as well, especially when we're getting results. If we were not getting the results, I would think otherwise, but I think we are playing well, we are getting the results that we want."
Before the setback in Indore, India had won eight of their nine previous home Tests. It could very nearly have been nine out of nine, if not for New Zealand's last-wicket pair hanging on for a draw in fading light in Kanpur. Most of these nine Tests were played on pitches where the ball turned from the first day.
It's not always been the case that India have played on these sorts of pitches, however. In the 2016-19 period, most of their home Tests - apart from the odd anomaly such as Pune - were played on pitches that started off relatively flat before wear and tear brought the spinners into the game in the second innings. In 2019-20, India whitewashed South Africa 3-0 on pitches of this kind; their batters made seven hundreds in four innings, and their fast bowlers played an even bigger role than their spinners, arguably, in taking 20 wickets in each Test.
At the time, you could even make a case that India's pitches offered the smallest degree of home advantage of any pitches anywhere in the world.
Everything changed when England won the first Test of their 2020-21 tour of India, in Chennai. That pitch started out flat and began deteriorating from around the end of day two. England won the toss, batted first, and posted 578 before their bowlers took over to engineer a 227-run victory.
The toss, India felt, had influenced the result to a significant degree. They had themselves been beneficiaries of this during the South Africa series, during which they had won all three tosses.
In an effort to minimise toss advantage, the rest of the England series was played on pitches that turned sharply and early. India lost two of the remaining three tosses, but won all three Tests and completed a 3-1 series win.
Such pitches have been the norm ever since, and India's top order has gone through a rough time. Of the seven batters who have batted at least eight times in their top six in home Tests since the start of 2021, only two average over 40. Four average 25 or below.
India know they can't expect their batters to score runs consistently on these pitches. Instead, they bank on their batters to produce enough innings of value amid the low scores, and for the depth of their batting to ensure that someone or the other makes a telling contribution in any given innings. They know it may not always happen, and that a good opposition attack might occasionally hand them a defeat, but they're prepared for it.
"People will have the phase where the runs are not coming, but that doesn't really matter, honestly," Rohit said. "We do understand the nature of the pitch, the challenge of playing on these pitches, so consistent runs from the batters will not come, but we're very much okay with that, as long as, as a whole, we are getting the job done. That is what I'm looking at.
"We're here to win - whether it's two days or five days, it doesn't really matter. We don't want to prepare a pitch where the results are not coming. We are here to win, and we want to play to win, every game that we play. When I say that, I do understand that it can come and haunt us as well, I'm very much aware of that, but so be it.
"We want to be brave enough not just with talking, we want to be brave enough in what we do out on the field, which starts with playing on challenging pitches."
Apart from negating toss advantage - the team losing the toss has won all three Tests of this Border-Gavaskar series so far - there's one other benefit India get from pitches that turn from day one. They minimise the chances of draws, and that's crucial when teams are looking to get as many World Test Championship points as they can from every match. India began this series needing to win at least three Tests out of four to seal a spot in the WTC final.
Indore, then, will be seen as a setback by India's team management. They may even believe the pitch went too far in the amount of variable turn, pace and bounce on offer - the surfaces in Nagpur and Delhi weren't quite as extreme - but they'll know pitch preparation isn't an exact science, and acknowledge that the curators had limited time to prepare this track, given that Dharamsala was originally meant to host the Test match. The result went against them, and their batters got through another difficult game, but India will see no need to review their belief that they play their best cricket on turning tracks.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo