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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

India vs South Africa: Any pitch perfect for India - Bharat Arun

At the press conference, India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun too made it a point to set the record straight. “We don’t ask for the kind of wickets that we get.”

cricket Updated: Oct 09, 2019 08:23 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times, Pune
File image of Indian cricket team
File image of Indian cricket team(AP)

A return to the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium would’ve brought back plenty of negative memories for Virat Kohli. The last time he played a Test here, against Australia in February 2017, everything that could possibly go wrong did. The plan to surprise Australia batsmen with a turning track backfired. And once the opposition’s spinners exploited the conditions better, India lost by 333 runs.

The ICC went on to rate the Pune wicket poor, and no real answers came out once a blame game ensued; the local officials accusing the BCCI curator for an eleventh-hour interference.

ALSO READ: Ahead of 2nd SA Test, bowling coach throws challenge to Team India

The Pune wicket only received more bad publicity after curator Pandurang Salgaonkar—a local fast bowling legend—found himself in deep trouble after a TV sting had him claiming he was ready to disclose pitch information. This sting was aired just before the ground hosted the India-New Zealand ODI in October 2017.

It, then, came as little surprise on Tuesday, two days ahead of the second Test, the wicket remained the focus, what with both teams having a good look at it when they arrived for their practice sessions.

An MCA insider, however, said lessons had been learned and there would be no botch-ups this time around. “All I can say is it won’t be like last time,” he said. At the press conference, India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun too made it a point to set the record straight. “We don’t ask for the kind of wickets that we get.”

But Arun also claimed he did not understand why Indian cricket constantly comes under fire for producing spinning tracks. “When we get seaming tracks abroad, we get hear that ‘Oh, Indians should learn to play on seaming track’. Seaming tracks are considered good tracks, whereas if there is a track that assists spin, you say, ‘how can you spin the ball on day 1?’” said Arun.

“When the ball seams, you accept it but when the ball turns you don’t,” he added. “Ideally a normal wear and tear wicket for Test match is fine but if you want to be No.1 team in the world, you can’t be looking at wickets. You got to look at the bowling, adapt your bowling instantaneously for success.”

ALSO READ: Best ever in India: Numbers reveal stunning impact of Ashwin-Jadeja

To be fair to coach Ravi Shastri and Co, the team management has not complained about the pitch when India have played away from home. They were welcomed with green decks on the Test tour of South Africa in 2018, a return gift for India producing rank turners when the Proteas last played Test cricket in India in 2015.

“To us, to be a good No.1 team in the world, any conditions that come your way (abroad) you have to accept it as home conditions,” said Arun. “We tend to assess the wicket at the last moment but we say that we are going to look at it as home conditions and wicket is same for both teams. We are going to work on our bowling rather than looking at the wicket.”

Maharashtra has been drenched with an extended monsoon season, which directly affects pitch preparation. For dishing out a dry surface like the one that awaited Australia in 2017, it needs to be sweltering and sunny, which hasn’t been the case. But India should be fine with whatever is provided, even a surface like Visakhapatnam that forced both the spinners and fast bowlers to raise their game.

Fortunately, the sun shone during India’s practice session on Tuesday afternoon. A support staff member was speaking to the curator after checking the wicket. After further discussions with the groundsmen, the surface was scrubbed with brush at both ends and a mower used to trim the grass. But it wasn’t anything alarming; the association can’t afford another fiasco.

Because the fast bowlers played a crucial role in India’s win, the recovery of all bowlers will be the priority. “That’s part of workload management,” said Arun. “It takes a couple of days after a very hard Test for the bowlers to recover. We give our pacers necessary breaks after a hard Test. We don’t let them bowl at practice. We just let them bowl enough so that they are absolutely raring to go for the next game.”

India had an optional training session, which was skipped by Mohammed Shami, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja—who shared 19 wickets in Visakhapatnam.

Given that the teams will be back after three days of that gruelling encounter, the main bowlers will be nursing soreness and fighting fatigue. It will determine any changes in the eleven. There’s a line of thought India will benefit by adding an extra bowler instead of an additional batsman.

Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav could be ideal to lend variety to the attack, a wrist spinner to back up finger spinners Ashwin and Jadeja.

Yadav was among those who at practice on Tuesday, bowling non-stop through the two-hour session and stopping only once, to switch nets.

When in rhythm, he can turn the game around quickly. In six Tests, the 23-year-old already has two five-wicket hauls and two four-wicket hauls. In his last Test, in Sydney versus Australia, he took 5/99.

There are mainly two reasons why a captain would play five bowlers—counter a strong batting line-up or tackle a slow wicket. Despite the margin of victory (203 runs), South Africa batsmen showed they are better prepared this time than in 2015 when they were rolled over.

The nightmare for a captain with four bowlers is one of them getting injured midway. Wednesday’s practice will give a better idea of the team management’s line of thinking regarding Yadav as he will be up against the main batsmen, Kohli, Vizag’s twin centurion Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. All three skipped practice on Tuesday.

Even in the last Test India played here, they fielded three spinners and two pacers, off-spinner Jayant Yadav teaming up with Ashwin and Jadeja with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav the pacers.

Thundershowers have been forecast for the next few days. There was a sharp shower after Indian practice. But MCA secretary Riyaz Bagban is confident the drainage system would ensure not too much time is lost due to a passing shower.

“Ours is a sand-based outfield, it dries up quickly. Even if it rains heavily overnight, the ground will be ready on time the next morning,” he said. “Last week, when the city had heavy rains, the Maharashtra team had three days of practice and matches in the stadium.”