In playing out like a traditional Indian pitch over five days, Ranchi has driven home two important points. There is no exact science to reading pitches and so best not to jump to conclusions like the entire Australian media did after arriving here ahead of the third Test. (Ranchi Test, Day 5 highlights)
It also showed other venues --- new as well as the traditional Test centres --- how to produce a thrilling Test without making an underprepared pitch. (Ranchi Test Scorecard)
The second point is of paramount importance after the board’s policy shift over the quality of pitches for Ranji Trophy that is now played at neutral venues. Once the ‘pressure’ of obliging the home team is lifted, curators are encouraged to leave a bit more grass on the pitch, water it well and roll it evenly to ensure it plays fair over five days.
That however doesn’t diminish chances of spinners getting purchase. The constant pounding the pitch suffers at the two ends from pacers and batsmen over the first three days is enough to create roughs in the area between good and full lengths. The soil content might delay or expedite the loosening of the turf, but it is bound to happen.
The Ranchi pitch, despite its mottled and muddy appearance, has shown how it’s supposed to play despite hosting a Test for the first time. It was good to bat on early with pacers doing reasonably well, but spinners also got some advantage towards the end. Overall, it produced a good Test across five days.
“I didn’t expect the game to go five days, certainly before a ball was bowled,” Australia captain Steve Smith said. “It didn’t look it would hold for five days like the curator said and he was correct. It was a really nice wicket, a little bit of rough around the leg-stump for Jadeja and O’Keefe to hit. But it was a nice wicket.”
India captain Virat Kohli was happy too. “Don’t think we can say we are disappointed with the wicket. It did wear a bit on days 3, 4 and 5 but I think the hardness of the ball was a big factor. When the ball was new last night, it spun well off the rough. Even this morning, it was spinning well. But in the middle session, the ball was not hard, so could not generate that kind of pace from the wicket,” he said.
Runs scored on the five days in Ranchi were 299, 272, 240, 266 and 181. Spinners took 13 of the 25 wickets to fall in the Test. A double hundred, three centuries and two big fifties too were scored. The numbers show how this match was dictated by the skills possessed by the players and not by any demon in the pitch.
Pune and Bangalore were rapped on the knuckles for not conforming to this basic requirement. Ranchi was a pleasing aberration. Not only did they roll out a good Test pitch, they might also get a good rating in the ICC match referee’s report, for the first time this series.