The pink ball usually moves a lot more than the red ball. The extra coat of lacquer helps as does the grass that is supposed to be left on the pitch for day-night Tests. But Ahmedabad is dry and dusty and the wickets there have always supported spin.
But as England were picking their playing XI for the third Test against India, they only saw one side of the coin. They focussed too much on the pink ball and forgot to think about the pitch or the conditions that the match was going to be played in.
How else does explain England’s bowling attack on a wicket where spinners claimed 11 of the 13 to fall on Day 1?
England picked three fast bowlers (James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer), a pace-bowling allrounder (Ben Stokes) and one proper spinner (Jack Leach) for the game. Joe Root can also bowl some spin.
They might argue that this is their best set of bowlers but it is clearly an attack that lacks balance. It almost feels like the visitors have taken a knife to a gunfight. In a sense, England put all their eggs in one basket and then would have watched with a fair degree of shock as India’s spinners Axar Patel and R Ashwin went about dismantling their batting line-up.
Between them, Patel (21.4-6-38-6) and Ashwin (16-6-26-3) bowled 37.4 overs, gave away 64 runs and claimed nine wickets. The pink ball helped the spinners as many deliveries simply seemed to skid onto the batsmen while some turned sharply, especially from the end that Patel was bowling from.
Patel, who was brought into the attack as early as the seventh over by Kohli, did the smart thing. He identified the best way to attack on this particular wicket and then stuck to it.
“When things are going for you, you need to capitalise,” said Patel after play ended on Day 1. “My aim is to keep wicket to wicket, that is my strength, and use the help on offer. In Chennai, the ball wasn’t skidding. But here it is and there are more LBWs (on offer). I think bowling around 85-90 kmph is a good pace on this wicket.”
Patel added: “With a lot of T20 cricket happening, the effects are there in Tests as well with batsmen being more aggressive. That’s why keeping a tight line and pushing it through quicker is being more successful. If the batsman is defending well, then (as a bowler) you go on the back foot in your mind. But if he’s not defending well and going for sweeps and reverse-sweeps, you feel there’s a chance coming.”
Many England batsmen fell to the straighter one from Patel. They played for the turn and the ball simply skidded on. Perhaps they will argue that even the bowler wasn’t too sure what the ball would do so how was the batsman supposed to, but the manner in which batsman after batsman was dismissed would have been disturbing for the team management.
The visitors went from 74/2 to 112 all out in conditions that no one would describe as treacherous. Difficult? Yes. Treacherous? No. A total of even 200 would have made sure they were in the game but 112 is too little.
Once again, India’s spinners throttled their scoring rate and once again, the England batsmen succumbed. Patel’s economy rate was 1.75 and Ashwin’s was 1.63 and if you let India’s spinners do that with a dodgy technique, you will not survive.
It was amazing to see how often England’s batsmen seemed to play down the wrong line or how they were being beaten in the air. India’s spinners are very good but England’s batsmen were technically not good enough to counter them too.
Case in point being how Root was dismissed. He is their best player of spin but the way in which he was trapped by Ashwin, who changed his angle to come around the wicket and then trapped the England spinner right in front, showed that India are right on top in every way imaginable.
When England came out to field, one saw more of the dangerous lethargy that has plagued them since the second Test at Chennai. Their body language was poor and it seemed to suggest that they’d rather be anywhere else than at the Motera stadium. They dropped catches, misfielded numerous times and did not even bowl Leach from the end that Patel did most of his damage for a long time.
Opener Zak Crawley, who top-scored with 53, said that England still believe they have a chance.
“Absolutely, there’s a way back into this game,” Crawley said. “It’s nowhere near over. We could bowl them out for late 100s, early 200s. And if we can get any sort of lead on that pitch, we’ve a chance in the fourth innings.
Crawley added: “I don’t think it’s going to require a miracle, to be honest. Batting last on this pitch is going to be extremely difficult. If we bowl well on Thursday and then get a nice lead - even a 100-run lead or 150 - we’ve got a great chance of winning the game.”
But everything Crawley said hinges on England bowling out India cheaply in the first innings. If they can’t do that, it is going to pretty much be curtains for the visitors.