IPL is about to start but let me say, with a last gasp before that happens that…
India took the third Test by storm to level the series. Having been themselves levelled by the South Africans in the previous Test, this came as a bit of a surprise. Or was it? The match was played on a dust bowl where the pitch was cracking 24 hours BEFORE the match started. The only reason that India did not play three spinners was that Kumble was injured.
Kumble was not needed in the end. The Indian spinners took seven wickers in each innings with the part-timers (Sehwag and Yuvraj) grabbing a total of five between them. Harbhajan opened the bowling in South Africa’s second innings. The match was well poised at stumps on day two with India eight down, holding a narrow lead. On Day three, South Africa had wiped off the deficit with eight wickets in hand. Then before you could say, “I’ll wager a fiver on the Boks”, the Boks had collapsed for 121 and India had smashed the winning runs. And Hershelle Gibbs wasn’t even playing.
Please don’t take my comments on the spinners’ paradise as criticism of Indian cricket. It’s not. I think there should be more of it – countries should be preparing pitches that suit the local conditions and players. It is a cricket tradition. I think it’s great to go to a location with an expectation of how a pitch will play. The many cricket pitches around the world that have had distinct characteristics add to the fabric of the game. In the past, when you went to Perth you would get your head knocked off. In Sydney, the ball turned square. In Melbourne, you could count on grubbers after day 3. And in Adelaide, the tail enders need not concern themselves too much about padding up. My broadly, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the sub continent all have conditions particular to that region and some individual pitches that “break the mold”.
In more recent times, there has been a tendency to homogenise pitches and I don’t think it’s been good for the game. Whether the trend has been motivated by a desire to ensure matches last longer (the homogenisation has generally taken the form of sterilisation) or as a result of criticism against homemade pitches, I don’t know. But I can’t see anything wrong with the locals cooking up a pitch to suit themselves. After all, there are no restrictions on who can play in either side. For example, when touring the sub continent, it was always in the interests of the tourists to send good quality spinners. Of course, you can’t just pluck a good spinner out of your hat, so it encourages cricket authorities to develop all forms of the game. One of Australia’s trumps in the Warne and McGrath era was that the home sides were “damned if they do, damned if they don’t”. Australia did not care whether it was dust bowl of a green top – as long as the ball did not swing, they would win the match.