Note: This article is a counter-view from a cricket fan to a Scroll.in article on 1 March, 2021 titled – A fan’s view: Dear Ashwin, don’t we have a stake in the pitch too?
Cricket fans suddenly found themselves with too much time in their hands once the day-night Test match between India and England came to a close within two days. And we fell back on what we tend to do in such a scenario: dissect and overanalyse things.
The much-advertised pink-ball match of the India-England Test series crash-landed within one-third of the total duration of the journey. It is but only natural for cricket enthusiasts all over the world to do chai pe charcha as to what could have gone better. And much of the blame fell on the 22 yards of turf on which the game was played.
Most Indian fans, including me, are riding on the high of winning back-to-back Test series in Australia and retaining the Border Gavaskar Trophy. It was the kind of series which played to a script that would make even a masala movie look sane in comparison. And it has been pleasant to know that the tour could rekindle the interests of fans to watch Test cricket.
Now does this imply every series has to be played to such narratives? Do the teams play to win matches or do they play to please fans watching? Or is a match entertaining enough only when the side you support is bruised and battered while playing pace bowlers in alien conditions and somehow end up producing a miracle result that is likeable enough for those wanting entertainment?
Now, back home, the Indian team is on the brink of reaching the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship. After an adverse result in the series-opener that was played on a pitch where the toss played a pivotal role, the Indian team has maximised the usage of their home advantage: laying out turning tracks.
And this has suddenly become an almost embarrassing factor for stakeholders of the Indian team because apparently this is not the best advertisement for Test cricket. But why? To borrow a leaf from Ashwin Ravichandran’s book of rebukes: who exactly defines what is a great Test match?
The sad part of the narrative against turning pitches is that the outrage was not at the same level when over 1200 runs where scored in five days in Chennai for the first Test. But now there is all the cribbing and ranting when teams struggle to score 400 in two days.
When crowds were allowed to re-enter stadiums, I was one among the thousands of fans to turn up to watch the second test match at Chepauk. There was hullaballoo around the pitch even before the first ball bowled. And neither did that match go all the way into the fifth day and the last session. But it would be cruel to call that match a disservice to Test cricket just because the match duration did not coincide with my plans of being at the venue for five days.
If anything, it was beautiful to watch Ben Foakes wicketkeeping, it felt like poetry in motion while Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Joe Root challenged the Indian batsmen who couldn’t afford to let their concentration slip on a difficult pitch.
It was even more amazing to see Ashwin’s batting – an off-spinner countering the turn offered by the pitch with the bat in hand, something which would have not been his premier weapon of choice. The skills on display, while the puff of dust after the ball landed on the intended spot, was definitely not second to watching batsmen shouldering arms when pacers try to tempt the batsmen to fish outside off-stump.
People follow sports due to various reasons. Yes, it could well be just entertainment for some, but it is a passion for others and the only escapism from reality for some more. But that does not have to translate into certain conventional conditions being superior and anything that is different being bad.
In many ways, the pitch is the greatest leveller. It doesn’t care whether you belong to the home team or opposition, it behaves the same. The best cricketers learn to make the best use of it to the best of their strengths. The result of the match is a culmination of those efforts from both sides. It is not what a piece of land over 22 yards decides.
If only watching seaming and swinging conditions is entertainment and good cricket in your opinion, so be it. But there are those of us who can enjoy a riveting contest between the bat and the ball, even if it means our weekend plans are into the fire.
Harini Venkataraman is an economics graduate from Chennai who loves discussing cricket all the time.