India vs Australia: Virat Kohli and team must read conditions well in MCG - Opinion
It’s been raining in Melbourne for the last few days but the sun is likely to be out for the duration of the Test.Updated: Dec 23, 2018 10:33 IST
While India didn’t play a spinner at Perth, Australia not only played Nathan Lyon but he picked eight crucial wickets (including Kohli in the second innings that sealed the fate of the match) and bagged the Man-of-The-Match award.
Everyone was critical of Kohli’s decision to play a four-pronged pace attack but the India captain stood by his selection even in the aftermath of the loss. Was he being too arrogant to accept his mistake? If you knew the outcome of your decision beforehand, you’d never make a bad decision.
I was at the Perth stadium on the morning of the game and I hadn’t seen an international pitch with so much grass. It was almost impossible to distinguish the playing strip from the rest of the square. While we were told there were some cracks underneath, there was no way to ascertain that they would open up radically as the match progressed.
Since it was the first Test at this new venue, there was almost no historical data to fall back on either. And it wasn’t the first time Kohli chose to field four fast bowlers. The last time he did India went on to win the Johannesburg Test in South Africa. It wasn’t so much about India fielding four seamers but about not picking a wicket in the opening session of the Test.
Pitch preparation isn’t perfect science as half the time you end up with a surface that’s not behaved as per your expectations. The pitch in Adelaide was supposed to turn a lot more than it did over the course of a Test. The pitch at Perth, as revealed by the curator, was going to become a nightmare to bat on after three days. In fact, he didn’t even mention how it was supposed to behave on the fifth day, for he believed the match won’t go that long.
But we learnt looks can be deceptive because the pitch played a lot better than everyone had anticipated. Reading a cricket pitch is as much about your gut feel as it is about the knowledge of how different pitches react. I remember Rahul Dravid talking about the benign grass on the Lahore pitch for the second Test in 2004, and therefore, the importance of batting first.
READING THE PITCH
Half the side was back in the pavilion in the first session itself. And then the pitch flattened out significantly. Ganguly choosing to field first in the 2003 World Cup final was another example of getting it horribly wrong. But that’s the case with all captains — you will make a lot of right calls but you’ll always be remembered for the ones that didn’t go your way.
When we talk about ‘home advantage’ it’s not only about getting the crowd support and having a game that’s better suited for pitches at home but also includes knowing a bit more about the conditions than the visitors. That knowledge always comes in handy while picking the right XI.
With the current series standing 1-1 after two Tests, all eyes have shifted to Melbourne. It’s been raining in Melbourne for the last few days but the sun is likely to be out for the duration of the Test. Once again, it’ll be important to read the conditions well for playing the right XI and also to make the right decision if you win the toss.
Unlike the new stadium at Perth, pitches at Melbourne and Sydney (venues for the last two Tests) have seen a lot of international cricket over the years, and therefore, you know what to expect. We might still be in for a surprise (if it’s too grassy, dusty or damp to start with) but still it is unlikely to fall in the realm of the unknown. I’m expecting a spinner to be included in the playing XI for sure but the key question will be about Hardik Pandya and his role in the playing XI.