Play it again, pitch

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Nagpur


NAGPUR is the geographical centre of India. That could explain why the middle of the ground at Jamtha, where India and SA will play the third test on Wednesday, was uppermost for some on Sunday.

After the visitors’ first training session here, the first question asked of JP Duminy was whether he had seen the pitch.

“I haven’t, sir,” Duminy replied. “So I guess I’m going to have to after this press conference seeing as you asked the question …”

And so the stubborn refrain of this series, which sounds more like a funeral march with each airing, resumed. Can we get past the pitch already? It seems not.

“ … but I guess the expectancy is that it will turn,” Duminy continued.

Mohali, where India won the first test by 108 runs inside three days, certainly did. Although SA dug their own grave by playing for more turn than was evident.

In Bangalore, days of rain before the match subverted whatever plan the groundsman had, and much more rain during the game allowed only one day’s play.

That left the debate in limbo on the field but not in this country’s dens of discourse, where you can talk about anything you like as long as that anything is cricket.

Makarand Waingankar, who holds a doctorate in the history of Mumbai cricket, has been writing on the game for more than 40 years, and is a former chief executive of the Baroda Cricket Association, has made the startling assertion in his column in The Hindu that groundsmen in India have been “forced to doctor pitches” to ensure the home side have the advantage.

“The worst part is that the head of the (Board of Control for Cricket in India) pitches and grounds committee reportedly issued written instructions to all the staging associations of the India-SA series to prepare pitches that would aid Indian spinners,” Waingankar wrote.

The chair of that committee is Daljit Singh, the head groundsman in Mohali. Will he get what he apparently wants in Nagpur?

The captain who has won the toss in the four tests played at Jamtha has chosen to bat first every time.

India were dismissed for 441 by Australia, who replied with 355, while SA declared their first innings closed on 558/6.

New Zealand were shunted for 193 with fast bowler Ishant Sharma and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha taking 7/100 in 37.3 overs between them.

England posted 330 after taking guard first.

The only fourth innings of fewer than 200 at Jamtha has been New Zealand’s 175.

All except the England test have been won and lost, but none has been over in fewer than four days.

That should help SA exorcise whatever demons they might harbour about the surface. A reality check wouldn’t hurt, either.

“The guys have admitted to the fact that we made a few errors, especially in that first test,” Duminy said. “We’d like to rectify it going forward.

“We understand that (India’s) strength lies in their spin. There’s no point trying to deny that. It’s about taking that head-on and having a gameplan against it.

Besides that, there’s history.

Jamtha was where SA overcame Sachin Tendulkar’s 111 by scoring 300/7 to win their 2011 World Cup match with two balls to spare. And it’s where they won that February 2010 test by an innings.

As Duminy said, “We’ve done it before.”

At 0-1 down in the series, this would be the best time to do it again.

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