Hot days and dry wickets aren't bad, just different
- Former India cricketer Snehal Pradhan weighs in on the hoopla surrounding the Chepauk pitch.
Dear England fans,
I loved bowling in your country. I came there twice as a cricketer, and loved standing at the top of my mark in cloudy, chilly conditions, with a white Kookaburra in my hand and a pitch that smelled like a freshly cut lawn. I’d bowl my first ball, and I’d hear the familiar ‘khch’ sound as it hit the pitch, which is what you get when the seam connects with the moisture in the surface. It’s the auditory confirmation of the pitch offering grip, and the promise of sideways movement. Khch, thud, LBW. Khch, khatt, caught behind.
When I got the ball back in hand, it had bits of grass stuck on the seam. I loved that sight so much that when I started my first blog, I called it ‘Grass on the Seam’.
Let me return the hospitality. Welcome to my country. Here you’ll rarely hear ‘khch’. You’ll hear ‘poof’. It’s a more hollow sound, as the ball hits the pitch, takes a section of the topsoil with it, and jumps with the turn. It’s different, yes. But it’s also beautiful. The loop of the ball as it curves one way, the energy with which it zips the other.
You, England fans, think it’s unnatural, especially when you see it early. I get that. You’re just not used to it, and that which looks unfamiliar is scary. I assure you, finding a bruise on the seam is just as natural as finding grass on it, depending on where you are. So don’t rile and rant. Take a sip of that tea. Let’s talk about it.
When I’m bowling on a green top, I don’t know which way the ball will seam, I just leave it to the pitch. And so I get the batter to dance to a tune as unfamiliar to her as to me. On a turner, there’s bounce, yes, but the ball goes one way. There, you have to be good enough to bowl one that doesn’t turn. Ask Jack Leach.
Sure, seaming pitches might get better to bat on later in the game, but that puts the team batting last at an advantage. Ask India Women, who won a Test on a green pitch at Wormsley in 2014, bowling England out for 92 and then chased 180 batting last.
Turners are fairer. They may not last long, but the ball turns on Day 1 as well as Day 3. The pitch gets worse, but the conditions are similar, so the toss doesn’t matter as much. It’s down to whose spinners bowl better, whose batters bat better. Ask India in Pune, 2017.
You say fast bowling is exciting to watch, the pace, the bounce, the oohs and aahs as the ball misses the bat. That’s because that’s all you see at home. Watch Ashwin in Chennai, really watch him, don’t turn off the TV in anger when he spins one past Ben Stokes. Look at his lengths, how much control he has, how much flight he can give despite being so tall. Put aside your disdain for that poof sound. Take a moment to appreciate the skill needed to put so many balls in the right place, just as you did when your team bowled Australia out for 60 and Ireland out for 38 (in the fourth inning, remember).
Take a moment to appreciate a pitch too bare for your taste, because then we get to see the full range of Ben Foakes’ skill, standing up to spin and pace, taking one handed leg-siders, and playing within his bubble with the bat.
You invented this game we love and took it around the world. You left behind your traditions too, even though some don’t make sense. White clothes, for instance, which a million Indian kids wear to dusty grounds without grass (and thousands of women wear while worrying about their period). Your tradition that makes the non striker being run out by the bowler some kind of sin. Come on, deep down, you know it’s both legal and logical. Hot days and dry pitches aren’t bad, aren’t doctored, aren’t snake pits. They’re just different. Your dislike of turning pitches is one of cricket’s unwanted traditions. No, actually it’s a prejudice.
Pitch making isn’t an exact science. Luckily, the world is richer for diversity. The first Test in this series was on a red soil pitch. The next one was on a black soil one. At the same venue. How incredible is that? Indian fans (for the most part) don’t complain about the pitches when we travel, and we expect the same courtesy when we host you.
You’ve viewed many things that are foreign with suspicion, and distrust, only to embrace them later: the pace of the Windies in the 80s, reverse swing from Pakistan in the 90s, the IPL in the 2010s. Come now. Come see how much fun watching cricket on turners can be.
Or be left behind.