MARTIN SAMUEL: Prepared for the hosts… this pitch is a disgrace

MARTIN SAMUEL: Prepared by the hosts for the hosts… the Chennai pitch is a disgrace and the Indian bowlers know it – it demeans the sport and eschews the concept of the battle between bat and ball

  • India lead England by 249 runs ahead of day three of the second Test in Chennai
  • England were bowled out for a paltry 134 on day two in a disappointing display
  • The quality of the Chennai pitch has been questioned amid England’s struggles

For India to reach 329 means England did not bowl well enough. For the response to be a paltry 134 means England did not bat well enough, either.

For the difference between the teams to be 249 at the close means that, in every facet of the game, England have been second best. Rohit Sharma, on his own, concluded day two 52 runs ahead of England.

And now we have got that out of the way, now we have established England will almost certainly get what they deserve from this second Test, and it is nothing, a quick word about the pitch. 

India took control of the second Test against England after bowling the tourists out for 134

The quality of the Chennai pitch has been called into question after England’s struggles

It’s a disgrace. A joke. It demeans the contest and the sport.

Everyone knows it. The Indian players know it. Does anyone really think Ravichandran Ashwin needs a track like that to shoot England out? It’s an insult.

He is the best spin bowler in the world. He took nine wickets in the first Test of this series but finished on the losing side, for the first time at home and only the second occasion in his career — he took 10 and lost in Galle to Sri Lanka in 2015.

If Ashwin bowls as he did in Chennai first time around, under normal circumstances, India win. They didn’t and, it would seem, someone upstairs panicked and took the nuclear option.

Ravichandran Ashwin (right) took a five-for during England’s disastrous first innings 

It was as if they did not have the faith in their bowlers to come back hard and do the job. So they tried to guarantee it.

This is where England’s frailties come in. For this pitch is so poor, so random, that it could have benefited the weaker England spin line-up; made heroes of bowlers who are not in Ashwin’s class.

Think of Moeen Ali’s ball to Virat Kohli on Saturday, the first time he had been bowled by an off- spinner in a Test since 2012. What if there had been a few more like that? What if Rohit had got one early? He was 48.9 per cent of India’s first innings score.

Whoever prepared this pitch was not gambling on the toss, or the brilliance of India’s bowlers.

The gamble was that England’s spinners would not also be able to capitalise. And that gamble has paid out, to here. 

England batsmen Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Jack Leach (above) fell to a seamer in Chennai

So England started badly and got worse. Their first wicket, Rory Burns trapped in his crease again, fell to a seamer. So did Ollie Pope and Jack Leach.

Yet it was the regular explosions from a wicket described by former Indian Test spinner Murali Kartik as ‘dust and pebbles’ that should alarm the game’s arbiters.

Kartik said he had never seen a surface like it, a rare moment of dissent from observers — including Channel 4 — who appear terrified of the clout and influence of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Maybe they fear being shut out of the next round of broadcast rights.

Yet who would want to watch this, if it was what Test cricket became? Pitches prepared for the hosts, by the hosts, eschewing the concept of the battle between bat and ball. 

Ben Foakes admitted that the Chennai pitch was ‘playing a few tricks’ on England’s batsmen

‘The pitch was playing a few tricks,’ said Ben Foakes, the England batsman who handled it best, with a lovely sense of understatement.

Mark Waugh, as a former Australian star the nearest to a neutral contributor, was less forgiving. 

‘This pitch in Chennai is unacceptable at Test match level,’ he said. ‘You can’t have the ball going through the top of the surface on day one from the main part of the pitch — not the footmarks.’ 

And he’s right. 

England avoided the follow-on by five runs — and even if they hadn’t, modern game management techniques suggest it is unlikely India would have enforced it — yet undoubtedly the potential existed for this match to be done by lunch on the third day; in seven sessions of a possible 15.

England managed to avoid the follow-on by five runs but trail India by 249 runs on day three

That is not the sport. Nothing wrong with a turning track, but there is a journey full of twists, turns and possibilities which takes us there.

This played on day one like it was day five. By day five… look, who are we kidding? There isn’t going to be a day five. And maybe not a whole lot of day four. There is no journey.

It’s like one of those slasher films in which the bodies pile up at the expense of character and plot. Too much of it, and the audience shrugs.

Do not let anyone pretend this is normal for India, or Chennai. Test cricket has been played on these pitches since 1934 and the 13 wickets that fell on day one of a match against the West Indies in 1975 had been the heaviest toll, until yesterday.

Fifteen wickets is the new record. So this isn’t to be expected, nor should it be shrugged off as part of the challenge of the sub-continent.

Anyone who loves cricket knows, appreciates and accepts Indian conditions, just as Indian batsmen must adapt to seaming English wickets. Yet there are boundaries.

India have played well in the second Test – but tourists England have been disappointing

The reason Ricky Ponting, among others, advocates doing away with the toss and giving the choice of batting or bowling to the visiting team, is to prevent those boundaries being wantonly crossed.

And some argue they were in 2018 when India were bowled out for 107 and 130 on a green top at Lord’s, beaten by an innings and 159 runs. Yet green tops improve across five days of a Test match. The pitch in Chennai cannot.

It will deteriorate, heaping further advantage on Ashwin until it almost certainly produces the result intended. And that is the host’s prerogative.

India have played well, England have been disappointing.

Yet the biggest disappointment is the absence of a contest; and that the match was won by a directive from on high to produce a wicket like a billiard table. No grass anywhere and full of holes.

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