Should India stop desperately seeking turning tracks at home?
For the next one month, spin will be the most used and debated term as India look to tame England in a four-Test series at home. Since skipper MS Dhoni gave a call for preparing turning tracks at home, there seems to be an anxiety to hit the visiting batsmen on dry surfaces that crack and throw up puffs of dust at least in the first half of the five-day encounter, if not on the opening day itself.
There is nothing wrong in playing to one’s strength at home; and that is a slow pitch where the ball grips on pitching and turns and bounces, testing the technique and temperament of batsmen who have not been weaned in the sub-continent. India’s prime spin hope R Ashwin has said the ability to play spin is as much a skill as tackling pace bowling in seaming conditions, dismissing complaints about turning tracks.
However, it is time the Indian team management stopped arm-twisting groundsmen, to tinker with their pitch preparations. That seems to be the case – may be the cricket board has stepped in as well – as the pitch at the Motera ground for the first Test is dry and appears sure to break and help spinners from the start. Ex-players feel the curators should be left to do their job. That will help each venue retain its qualities. Otherwise, the result would be a sub-standard pitch, one that either breaks alarmingly fast or ends up as a sluggish surface and kill the contest as a spectacle. India have faced both these situations in the past.
While one can point out that teams such as England, Australia and South Africa beat sub-continent sides at home mainly because of their pace attack on bouncy tracks, it is also a fact that most of those pitches do not deviate from their basic character. Thus, a visiting team, although handicapped because their batsmen have to change from predominant front-foot play to playing shots off the backfoot to counter pace and bounce, still know how the pitch at a particular venue would behave well before they leave on the tour.
Only such consistency can help build the reputation of venues. Not knee-jerk reaction to atone for the abysmal failure overseas, something India are trying to make amends in this busy home season which will end with Australia’s Test tour early next year.
In the 1990s, India prepared turning tracks to build their home advantage and record. But in the 2000s, there was less emphasis on rank turners which only help raise the reputation of class spinners like Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Many of those contests, where pacers too have played important roles in sealing victories, are still in the fans’ minds.
Over the last several years, Indian curators have turned bumpy outfields into smooth and uniform surfaces. Should we or not then let them prepare classy pitches as well and tell the players to focus on honing their cricketing skills?