Irrespective of the track at Ranchi, the Test promises to be a high-voltage cracking contest. In Pune, India defeated itself by producing a horrendous pitch but after the temporary stumble, Bangalore was gharwaapsi of sorts, back to winning ways.
Victory was achieved amid a spectacular brain fade, angry statements and allegations of Australia cricket team skipper Steve Smith crossing the line. The raging controversy subsided when the cricket boards directed the feuding captains to shake hands in a Gandhigiri gesture to protect the important (and elusive) spirit of the game.
Despite this noble intent, don’t be surprised if the ‘all is well’ policy is no-balled and another head-on collision happens in Ranchi.
The Aussies play their cricket hard and Virat Kohli has announced, ominously, that he does not believe in looking back. Kohli’s Indian cricket team represents a self-confident young India which is not shy of getting into a scrap, so sledging, screaming and snarling at opponents is par for the course.
Sunil Gavaskar (a staunch supporter of give-as-good-as-you-get policy) once said that the scene after taking a wicket in his playing days was so uneventful it looked like a drinks break .The bowler was acknowledged with a polite clap, and players just waited for action to resume. Now, the fall of any wicket, even that of a tailender, sparks wild jubilation and loud sendoffs!
One view of this high-decibel aggression is it is great theatre, television and fans love it .Players are not robots, passion adds spice to sport and makes it more thrilling. The popular mantra, repeated in every dressing room nowadays, is about preparation, respecting processes and, in the end, enjoying and expressing yourself.
Conditions in Pune and Bangalore were not conducive for free-flowing expression. The track did not allow batsmen to boss over bowlers and they could only score what Rahul Dravid calls ugly runs. In Bangalore, only KL Rahul seemed to play with a bat that had a middle.
Will Ranchi turn square from over one? Pitch behaviour is more tricky than calling election results and the Ranchi curator, like others before him, has made the right noises about a sporting track.
But chances are if Steve Smith is lucky with the toss, Ravichandran Ashwin will be at David Warner first up with the new SG ball.
Some think designer pitches and conditions manufactured to favour the home team reduces the charm of cricket. With dice loaded against the visiting teams, Test matches follow a set pattern: Teams don’t win away from home and no major team loses at home.
Perhaps this happens when winning becomes the only goal and sporting victories are linked to national pride .This could be a narrow view of nationalism but if a Test victory lifts the mood of a nation why crib about removing grass from a pitch which is already bone dry.
(Amrit Mathur is a former sports administrator who worked with the BCCI as a media manager. The views expressed are personal)