No middle for pitched battle
India have struggled to force the right result at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, not winning a Test here in 13 years, but on the evidence of the first two days' play it seems the curator might have a share in the blame. In this case, you don't even know who to ask: Narayan Raju, the former Karnataka batsman and long-standing curator, has been partnered by Phil Stoyanoff, the expert from New Zealand. "It's been rolled and rolled in the past week and is really firm," Stoyanoff said just before the start of this Test. "It's hard and shiny and reminds me of the WACA."
If Stoyanoff still holds this view, after seeing how the pitch has behaved, there would be good reason to question his credentials to do the job in the first place. But sadly, Bangalore is not isolated in this. More and more, Indian pitches have become dull and lifeless, with the ball doing next to nothing. This leaves bowlers tired and unhappy while not helping the batsmen either as they struggle to play their shots with the ball not coming onto the bat.
Not long ago, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Mohali produced sporting pitches, the kind that encouraged a tough fight between bat and ball. For some reason those four surfaces, and others, were relaid in one go, again with the help of experts from the Turf Institute in New Zealand, and things have gone downhill.
For a time in the 1990s India played on pitches tailormade for its three-pronged spin attack, dustbowls that gave visiting batsmen sleepless nights.
If anything, India have ceased to enjoy the edge that comes with home advantage in recent times. There was the Nagpur strip, green and grassy, that was perfectly suited to Australia's seam-based attack in 2004. There was Ahmedabad, early this year, when the curator point blank refused to shave the grass off against Dale Steyn's South Africa, where India were bowled out for just 76 in 20 overs on the first morning.
There's a crying need to produce pitches with some bounce. It's not as though Anil Kumble has needed dust bowls, but when you see a bowler of his skill and experience being reduced to a trundler, forced to experiment with bowling seam up, you know something is not right. Just after 4.30pm on Friday, what began as a gentle drizzle escalated to a shower as the players were out in the middle. It remains to be seen whether the moisture that fell on the pitch before it was covered can do what the curators have failed to – breathe life into a surface that has reduced the game to hours of hard work.
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