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India vs Australia: Criticised pitches made great contests

Former Australia skipper Ian Chappell says Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy stood out in the series-deciding Dharamsala Test and that the much-criticised pitches made the India-Australia series exciting

cricket Updated: Apr 02, 2017 12:22 IST
Ian Chappell
India vs Australia

Former Australia Test skipper Ian Chappell has described Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy as pro-active after India won the series against Australia 2-1.(REUTERS)

The series between India and Australia showcased many of the good things about Test cricket and a few of the unsightly. It was the most entertaining series I’ve watched since the thrilling and dynamic Ashes battle of 2005.

First, the good things; the attributes administrators ought to highlight in promoting Test cricket.

The most important ingredient was the competitiveness of the two teams. Test cricket needs more teams who can compete both at home and away. The administrators need to encourage improvement in the standard of the lowly ranked teams before they think about expanding the competition.

Read | Steve Smith’s transformation proved me wrong, says Sourav Ganguly

Pitches spiced up contests

Some of the pitches came in for criticism but they provided exhilarating contests where the fan or viewer felt something was about to happen every ball. The fourth Test pitch was a beauty, where everyone had a chance to display their talent.

Ajinkya Rahane achieved a victory on captaincy debut during the fourth Test in Dharamsala against Australia. (AP)

The moral? Provide pitches that give bowlers some assistance and there’s every chance the Test will live up to its name.

The surfaces also highlighted the excitement on display when slow bowlers are encouraged. Cricket needs to make a concerted effort to improve the lot of spin bowlers; the game can’t do without top-class tweakers. An educational programme aimed at young spinners and their captains would be a start.

Rahane a Pro-Active captain

Speaking of captains, there was some excellent leadership in the series. However, stand-in Ajinkya Rahane was outstanding in the deciding Test. His decisive use of left-arm chinaman debutant Kuldeep Yadav in the first innings and the brave way he sought second innings wickets in a tight contest were standout examples of how a captain can influence a game.

Rahane then placed the trophy firmly in India’s hands when he was pro-active in the run chase and ended Pat Cummins’ fiery attempt to provoke a collapse. Good, imaginative captaincy is crucial to the success of Test cricket.

Steve Smith smashed three hundreds and became the leading run-scorer in the series while Cheteshwar Pujara became India’s leading run-getter in the series. (BCCI)

Vintage Smith, Pujara

The prodigious run scoring by Steve Smith and Cheteshwar Pujara reflected an old-fashioned approach to batting. Their concentration was relentless and the shot-making displayed a desire to eradicate error; they mostly hit the ball along the ground. It was reminiscent of a time when Test cricket was the only game in town.

Now, for the not so appealing aspects of the series.

DRS and Vijay’s catch

The DRS doesn’t achieve what it was introduced to do. The DRS should simply overturn howlers, and within a margin for error, ensure decisions are correct. It shouldn’t be constantly employed to review fifty/fifty decisions and tactically induced punts. It should also be under the sole control of the umpires. The adjudication process shouldn’t turn a captain into a ‘Money or The Box’ contestant, with onlookers shouting advice from the sidelines.

The DRS should not include reviews to determine if a fielder has caught the ball. Murali Vijay caught Josh Hazlewood in Dharamsala; any fair-minded slip fielder will confirm it was a legitimate catch.

A fielder doesn’t catch the ball with his fingers pointing straight towards the ground. He only does that when he’s intercepting a ball that has bounced in front of him. Murali Vijay had his fingers curled under the ball, it’s just that the foreshortening effect of the cameras made it appear otherwise on one replay.

Not only does reviewing these decisions often bring about the wrong conclusion - on-field umpire Ian Gould’s soft signal was out - it also implies the fielder is a cheat. The evidence is flawed and should be thrown out of court.

Matthew Wade and Ravindra Jadeja were involved in an intense sledging battle in the Dharamsala Test. (AP)

Curb that Chatter

The incessant on-field chatter has to be drastically reduced. It should drive batsmen mad but if it doesn’t, it’s the equivalent of a finger nail on a chalkboard for the television viewer.

We don’t need to hear another “nice SOK” anymore than the bowler does. These inane comments don’t convey anything useful to teammates or viewers and they are NOT PART OF THE GAME, as we are constantly assured they are by participants.

Those annoyances apart, it was a fabulous series showing Test cricket in a wonderful light. It emphasised why this version of the game needs to be nurtured, albeit with some tweaking.

Ian Chappell, former Australia cricket team Test captain, writes for Hindustan Times exclusively