*Indian bowler R Ashwin celebrates the dismissal of England's J Leach on the first day of the 3rd cricket test match between India and England, at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.(PTI)
*Indian bowler R Ashwin celebrates the dismissal of England's J Leach on the first day of the 3rd cricket test match between India and England, at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.(PTI)

Who defines good pitches, asks Ashwin

  • Ashwin is an angry man over what he sees as too much importance being given in India to criticism of the pitches prepared for the second Test in Chennai and the pink-ball game in Ahmedabad.
By N Ananthanarayanan, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 28, 2021 11:11 AM IST

R Ashwin is being hailed as a hero, second fastest to 400 Test wickets which has capped a great three in his career. He helped reel in a Test series in Australia from a hopeless position, and India lead 2-1 in this home series against England to have one foot in the World Test Championship final.

But he is also an angry man over what he sees as too much importance being given in India to criticism of the pitches prepared for the second Test in Chennai and the pink-ball game in Ahmedabad. The day-night third Test ended inside two days, the shortest since 1936 and has faced heavy criticism for the wicket where the top layer peeled off in the first session, suggesting it was under-prepared.

Ashwin and Axar Patel, the left-arm spinner in his second Test, dismissed England for less than 200 both innings put together. The India camp, from the Anil Kumble era starting in the 1990s, has had to defend home pitches. As India dominated South Africa at home in 2015, coach Ravi Shastri dismissed criticism of the rank turners saying India never complain about pace- and seam-friendly pitches abroad.

The India off-spinner, a staunch spokesman for his team through his career, has not been defensive this time. He countered criticism of the Ahmedabad pitch with rough patches from the first session in a series of tweets on Friday. Criticism by experts in England and in the Indian media would be akin to an asterisk being put next to Indian performances.

On Saturday, Ashwin was asked about his tweets. They do not mention names or make it explicit it is to counter the pitch criticism. He had tweeted: “Products are sold using various marketing strategies and that’s an accepted practice! We now live in an era where ideas are also being sold to us and it’s a classic example of “outbound marketing”, however I would like to add that buying ideas being sold to us is like telling us you can’t think on your own” and here we will teach you how to think and also help you think the way we want you to think. After having played the game at this level for a decade, I can safely say that “As long as we are going to buy it, they will shove it down our throat”.

“Finally. We can always have and stand by our opinions even if it’s against the majority as long as we know that it is our own and not the one that’s been sold to us! The choice is always ours.”

He told a virtual media interaction on Saturday: “I thought it was very, very pertinent… I find it extremely hilarious and heinous to a point where you have a thought process and you want everybody to follow that, make it a condition because with thoughts you condition people to believe in a certain way.

“So, you watch a match, you watch India win the game, at most everybody is saying India won the game, it is a great feeling. But you don’t want people to go back and say ‘India is not winning the game, it is the pitch that is winning the game’. That is not what I want people to do… This is conditioning that is happening, it has happened for a long, long time. When are we even going to wake up to it?”

He seemed to target former players. “This is what has been happening for the last decade, if not more. That is why I put out the tweets I did yesterday. People need to get the context of what is happening here. There are people who messaged me and said the match has ended in two days. What about all the three pink-ball Tests we played, every game ended in three days. When somebody just throws an opinion out there about the surface and having played the game, unfortunately not having played the pink-ball Test, they will not understand this facet of the game.

“My angst against the whole thing is that when people say something, so many others who are watching it are not able to paint it different to somebody who is driving a certain case and selling a certain case to us. This needs to stop.”

However, asked about his former teammate Yuvraj Singh’s tweet—“finished in 2 days Not sure if that’s good for test cricket !If @anilkumble1074 and @harbhajan_singh bowled on these kind of wicket they would be sitting on a thousand and 800? However congratulations to @akshar2026 what a spell! Congratulations @ashwinravi99 @im ishant”, Ashwin said he didn’t see any agenda in it

“The reason behind my tweets were not in context with anybody in particular. When I read Yuvraj’s tweet, I didn’t get affected. I didn’t find he was telling us anything or trying to suggest anything.”

He added: “For me, I want to protect, or at least try and put it out there that people who know me or who are watching me talk at least realise that without their knowledge they are being hypnotised into believing what they are buying.”

Asked by an English journalist if the pitch for the final Test would be similar to that of the pink-ball game, Ashwin snapped: “What is a good cricket surface?” When told it was one that produced an even contest between bat and ball, he said batsmen failed in Ahmedabad. India too were dismissed for 143 in the first innings.

Ashwin’s indignation is understandable at one level, although two-day games can’t be great advertisement for Test cricket. Pitches, be it South Africa, England or New Zealand, have been overtly seam-friendly but don’t elicit criticism like turning tracks have, especially those for the last two Tests, from former players.

The player with 77 caps wants even the good pitches description to be revisited.

“What makes a good surface? Who defines this? Seam on the first day, then bat well then spin on the last two days. C’mon, who makes all these rules?” he asked. “We need to get over it and not talk about whatever picture you want to paint. And if you are asking if it was a good Test surface, I didn’t see any of the players coming from England having an issue with the surface. They want to improve. They look like they want to have a contest. Is it the players and people who are reporting back that want their players to not compete, and complain about the pitches? We’ve never done that in any of our tours.

“Why would you talk about the surface and sell that to us time and time again. Is there any instance where the surface has been spoken about in any other countries we played games in?

I somehow find it funny when they speak about the surface, it immediately gets quoted all over our press. And that is the issue here. There have been instances, when we went to New Zealand, both Tests got over within five days—five days for two Test matches. And nobody quoted it.”

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