When Virat Kohli fell leg before to a delivery that kept low and struck his pad at shin level in the second innings of the Kolkata Test against New Zealand, it revived a long-standing question.
Is India’s eagerness to cash in on home advantage by playing on uneven, dusty and slow pitches affecting the skipper’s batting record in his backyard?
As the hosts face New Zealand in the final Test starting on Saturday, one hopes the new venue Indore rolls out a pitch that provides for a more even battle between bat and ball.
India have been on top at home in the last few years, but the uneven contests have hurt Virat. As his progress report shows, he is a master at handling any kind of bowling on fast and bouncy pitches, but his batting at home has suffered as India have leaned too heavily on tracks where their spinners can dominate from the word go.
For starters, he has not scored a century on home soil since 2013, against Australia in Chennai.
Virat has scored 12 Test hundreds since debut in 2011. Seven of those knocks have come in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where he has played some unbelievable innings on challenging pitches and against formidable pace attacks.
However, Virat, competing for the tag of the world’s best batsman with Joe Root, Steven Smith and Kane Williamson, has scored only three hundreds in 19 matches he has played in India. And his strike rate at home is just 48.75, whereas it’s a much higher 59.33 in Australia.
Virat has been a dominant force in adverse pitch conditions in Australia, where he has scored five hundreds in eight matches.
However, at home his batting seems to have suffered in the last three years because of pitch conditions that are aimed to exploit home advantage by helping spinners dominate the contests.
In fact, since his last century at home in 2013, he has managed just two fifty plus scores in 16 completed innings, a reflection of India’s spin-oriented approach at home.
In fact, Virat averaged a modest 33.33 in the four-match home series against South Africa late last year. He averages just over 20 in the current series with a top score of 45 in the second innings of the Eden Gardens Test.
On the 2014-15 tour of Australia, Virat overshadowed his teammates and most Australians batsmen. He struck four centuries, including two in the first Test in Adelaide as he almost carried the visitors to a sensational victory. He followed that up with hundreds in the Melbourne and Sydney Tests as well.
After the Australia tour, he led the team in Sri Lanka. He batted brilliantly in the series where India rallied to win 2-1 with 103 his best, in a losing cause, in the first Test at Galle.
However, when he returned to his backyard, it was a different game. True, he wasn’t the only batsman to struggle in the series against South Africa. Ajinkya Rahane --- he scored centuries in both innings of the final Test in Delhi --- Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara scored more runs than their skipper.
A long season lies ahead, with the third Test against New Zealand starting on Saturday, England, Australia and a one-off Test against Bangladesh in between also listed for the season.
It will be interesting to see whether India’s growing confidence as a Test unit is reflected in the preparation of pitches. India’s bunch of talented batsmen deserve more than merely scrambling for a few runs before handing over the show to the bowlers.