In the last three Tests on Indian soil - all drawn - 4,577 runs have been scored while 81 wickets have fallen. From the statistics alone it is clear that the playing surface is something Indian cricket is getting very wrong. The demand for results in this day and age is almost as strident as it is for entertaining cricket in all forms of the game.
It s possible to produce irresistible cricket as Virender Sehwag did in his innings of 319 on the flattest deck at Chepauk. Even then, the clamour for a result could be seen in the eloquent silence in which most of the rest of the Test match was viewed by what is avowedly the most sporting crowd in the country, which applauds every landmark, be it crossed by an Indian or a member of a visiting team.
It's hardly important who told what to which curator to produce what type of pitch. The best that the game can do is to lay down a national policy on pitches by which those who are actually preparing them are given full licence to make as hard and sporting a surface as they can. The board's pitches committee has done precious little in safeguarding the interest of those who are willing to make good wickets in our Test arenas.
The grounds men who tend to the grass are given all kinds of mixed signals from several stakeholders - the BCCI, state association, Team India, national pitches committee members and, perhaps, even the Oriental expatriate advertising types who were the only ones allowed free access to the playing arena at Chepauk before the Test. The day after the Test, the pitch was an orphan reduced to putty by the rain.
The grounds men have a difficult job. The nature of the soil is such it's never going to be easy to make hard and true wickets like the ones you may get in Australia. For all the know how the BCCI imported in the form of Kiwi experts who came down to prepare the Bangalore pitch last December, all we got was a slow horror - 1,609 runs for 33 wickets — on which Kumble was reduced to bowling medium pace on the final day in the hope of coaxing some life out of it.
Short of importing tonnes of loam from Australia and grass from England and putting them together in hot houses and cranking them into place with cranes, there is little an Indian grounds man can do to speed up the pitches. But, give them time, the freedom to roll the surface for a couple of months and sufficient watering while perhaps leaving the pitches under floriculture covers at night and they can produce more sporting surfaces offering close to an even balance between bat and ball.
What happens when visiting team play on such surfaces here is they carry the prejudices back home where their grounds men compete to produce horrible surfaces for Indian bats men. They leave all the grass on in New Zealand where to reach a target of 100 can sometimes be an excruciating experience. They load them with moisture in South Africa to allow the ball to seam. Teams are forced to try all kinds of tricks against India only because they feel somewhat cheated when they come out to play Test cricket over here.
At a time when the nation is eagerly awaiting the IPL Twenty-20 experience with its mix of Bollywood entertainment, such pitches as the one laid out in Chennai may quickly lead to the demise of Test cricket. A collective 1,25,000 people watched the Test over the five days, which is still heartening because those numbers are only occasionally matched in England and Australia.
India are the number two Test side in the world now. They can remain there with draws against a serious contender for the ranking like South Africa. But that would not be cricket. Motera in Ahmedabad may become a defining Test if it breaks the spell of big scoring draws.
Republished with permission from The Asian Age