India’s home Tests against formidable rivals — read Australia and England, and South Africa in 2015 — in the last decade have seen performances smudged with only numbers highlighted with series more often than not proving a blur on rank turners.
These fast-forward games on repeat were defended by team managements that insisted that the spin-friendly tracks were par for the Indian course much like seam, swing, pace and bounce was in England, South Africa and Australia. Since 2019, the need to rake in maximum points for the World Test Championship was also held up, justification of which came in India qualifying for the title clash in the first two WTC cycles.
That is why the Visakhapatnam Test should be treated as very special, a throwback to an era when pitches afforded spin alright, but they did leave fans discussing and debating the great moments that make five-day, red-ball internationals a spectacle.
India’s second Test win will be remembered for wonderful performances rather than ball, particularly the spinning one, dominating the bat and the game itself hurtling to a premature finish.
When the first Test in Hyderabad ended in four days, there was relief that the pitch, dominating conversation in the build-up to the series, played much better than everyone expected it to. Vizag was a huge upgrade despite ending with a day to spare as pitch-talk faded into the background in the wake of the twists and turns that stood out.
Any highlights reel is likely to be divided into these segments: Jasprit Bumrah’s nine, R Ashwin’s one short or 499. Yashasvi Jaiswal’s 209. Shubman Gill’s 104, Jimmy Anderson to Rohit Sharma and DRS technology versus Zak Crawley.
Skill and tactics dictated the ebb and flow and discussion was firmly on how one team won and the other lost in an India Test. This wasn’t the case in the 2021 visit by England, or the Australia series last year. South Africa, whose pitches for India’s Test series were rather poor, could hardly put bat to ball on Indian turners in 2015 despite boasting of a formidable line-up.
The third Test in Rajkot is already upon us, starting Thursday, but if fans are frustrated by an unusual nine-day gap, it is because action in Vizag had whetted their appetite after proper exchanges. The pitch in Vizag wasn’t dry or breaking up, and while the ball gripped and turned as expected, it also aided the masterly fast bowling of Bumrah and Anderson. The two low catches England stumper Ben Foakes took — faint inside edges off Shreyas Iyer and Rajat Patidar — and Bumrah’s teasing slower delivery to induce Foakes himself to give a return catch all saw skill, rather than conditions, dictate.
England’s in-your-face cricket — Bazbat backed by Bazball in Hyderabad put them 1-0 up too — and the Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes tactic to challenge the opposition all the time without worrying about failure did play a role in the pitches being balanced.
India coach Rahul Dravid, after the Vizag victory, explained that he had no role to play in pitch preparation. His former skipper Sourav Ganguly, no stranger to pitch controversies but who won India’s greatest Test series against Australia in 2001 on slow tracks that saw Harbhajan Singh’s great spin bowling as well as great batting, express delight.
Ganguly, who was BCCI president on England’s previous Test tour when India won 3-1 on rank turners after losing the first game, backed good tracks and good games after Vizag.
“When I see Bumrah, Shami, Siraj, Mukesh bowl, I wonder why do we need to prepare turning tracks in india .. my conviction of playing on good wickets keeps getting stronger every game .. They will get 20 wickets on any surface with ashwin jadeja Kuldeep and axar .. batting quality dropping because of pitches in last 6 to 7 yrs at home .. good wickets are a must .. india will still win over 5 days ..@bcci”, he said on X.
“If you are looking for an ideal Test match pitch in India — it is very difficult to curate these kinds of pitches, but this was evidence of a perfect Indian pitch in the sense there was always some help for the spinners, good for batting. Not a flat track, and the most unique thing about this pitch was seamers getting movement off the pitch and reverse swing coming into play as well. If you had quality as a player, the pitch is going to be your friend.”
Rajkot is unlikely to be the belter it usually is in domestic cricket. If the pitch lets both sets of players to provide fresh highlights, even talk of five days too many may subside.