Leading Edge: White with pink dots, and unfair

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Nagpur

WHAT’S white with pink spots and stands at the side of Wardha Road, the artery clogged with mediocrity that links downtown Nagpur to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport and, beyond that, Jamtha stadium?

Here’s clue that won’t help: as it stood there in its pinky whiteness it chewed pensively with bearded jaws and looked at the world through eyes more dead than alive.

It was a goat. White with pink spots painted all over its body. Yes, really.

Quite why a garishly painted goat was standing at the side of Wardha Road was a question best not asked, lest someone tried to answer it. But some questions ask themselves.

“I’ve tried for three days now not to write about the pitch,” an Indian journalist said as the media bus trundled along Wardha Road back from Jamtha towards Nagpur on Friday evening. “And for three days I have failed.”

We were on our way back to town after reporting on day three of the third test between India and SA. There would be no fourth day.

It wasn’t difficult to empathise with my colleague. Trying not to cover the third test without writing about the pitch would have been like trying to review Shakespeare’s play about three witches and the murder of a Scottish king without referring to Macbeth.

Not only was this pitch a wretched thing on which to play a game of cricket, it would seem to have been designed to be exactly that.

Neither the groundsman nor India’s suits nor indeed their players have shown the slightest sign of embarrassment at having won the series on this impostor of a pitch.

Michael Vaughan seems to think they should be ashamed, calling the surface “nothing short of diabolical for test cricket” as 20 wickets fell on the second day.

In response, Virat Kohli sulked about “people sitting somewhere else and speaking about the pitch in India” and stooped to whataboutery.

“It is always a matter of us not having the technique or us not having the mental strength to cope with conditions away from home,” Kohli said. “But when these sorts of things happen, everybody starts talking about how it is an undue home advantage.”

That’s because pitches elsewhere are not as flagrantly skewed to favour the home side as those in Mohali and, particularly, Nagpur were. You’ve heard of match-fixing? Welcome to pitch-fixing.

Kohli’s other defence, that these are simply “the conditions you get in India” is disingenuous. Plenty of good pitches have been made here, surfaces on which India have been able to use their strengths without depending on unfairness to win.

The Jamtha pitch was not one of them. Instead, it was an insult to all who paid good money to watch an honest cricket match, even if they don’t want to admit that while they celebrate a tainted victory.

They would have spent their money better buying tickets to see a white goat with pink spots on Wardha Road.

 

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