Watching the ball spin and bounce a lot on the very first day of the Mumbai Test, Ravi Shastri, now back as TV commentator after a stint with the Indian team as its coach, could not stop himself from taking a dig at the curator of the wicket. “This is an akhara (wrestling pit) where the ball is going to really turn, where was the curator during the World Cup T-20 semi-finals?” (HIGHLIGHTS)
There is a background to this comment, as the wicket for that match was as flat as a cemented road and West Indies beat India in a high-scoring match. However, to understand the real reason for Shastri’s sarcastic comment, one has to go back to India’s one-day match against South Africa in 2015. It was again a flat track and the South Africans, batting first, smashed the Indian bowling to smithereens to score more than 400 runs and run away with the match. Shastri, a great advocate of preparing complete turners at home as was done in the Test series played later, was so miffed with the curator that he had an ugly spat with him during the course of the match. (SCORECARD)
In the Test series that followed the one-day matches, most of the wickets were actually “akharas” where the balls would turn viciously and treacherously not only for R Ashwin but for anyone who would throw the ball in the air in an attempt to spin the ball. Nagpur and Mohali were the worst examples of wickets where putting bat to ball was as difficult as chasing cash in the times of demonetization is these days.
India won that series but drew a lot of criticism for going to extreme lengths to doctor the wickets, though Shastri and the Indian supporters did not find anything wrong in it. Home advantage, it was said, is the happening thing, so why blame the Indians for doing it.
India, under a different coach, Anil Kumble, have swamped England, taking a 3-0 lead after a resounding innings win in the Mumbai Test on Monday morning. This series win should please Indian fans as well as critics of doctored wickets as the tracks provided for the series were by no means unplayable or “akharas” as Shastri termed them.
England won three out of four tosses and in Mumbai, scored 400 runs in the first innings, yet lost the match by a huge margin. So, the wicket, though it did turn more than any time in the series, could not be blamed for the English disaster.
Similarly in the other three Tests, England had their moments, especially in the first Test, but some terrific cricket from the Indians neutralised all that England had to offer.
There was a home advantage for India, no doubt, but that is what happens wherever cricket is played. It is only when home advantage is manipulated to an extent that the contest becomes unfair, that voices of criticism emerge.
England will be the first to admit they were beaten fair and square by a team which was far superior to them and had better spinners and batsmen for the conditions on offer.
This is a series win achieved by not relying too much on the vagaries of the track and that augurs well for the future of Indian cricket.