Can we for a moment give credit where it is due? Is it every time a dustbowl that visiting teams bite the dust on against the Indian spinners? Is it that hard to look at an Indian victory without 'undue' advantage that home conditions offer?
"Honestly one day I would like to walk into a press conference and stop answering questions on the pitch because that's as good as Indian pitch one can get," said India's premier tweaker Ravichandran Ashwin at a press conference during the Vizag Test, and there is indeed merit in his statement.
There were considerable misgivings over the pitch at the ACA-VDCA ground especially after a Ranji Trophy match between Rajasthan and Assam got over in three days, with the latter being bundled out for 69 in their second innings, lasting only 20.2 overs. Apprehension turned into near-paranoia, when New Zealand were shot out for 79 in the ODI series decider with leg-spinner Amit Mishra (5/18) running through the Kiwis.
What hardly anybody seemed to care about is that it was the same pitch on which India had scored 269, batting first, and the pitch could not have deteriorated so much in 50 overs that the New Zealand found it difficult to even survive. Also, had the pitch really been of dubious quality, India would not have scored as many runs as they did. It was not meant to be such a low-scoring contest; the Kiwis made it out to be one.
When India notched up a 246-run victory at Vizag, some of us wasted no time to put the pitch under inquisition. Comparisons were drawn with the pitches during the home series against South Africa last year. Mention were made of the (in)famous Mumbai Test against Australia in 2004, which saw the visitors being skittled out for 93 in a little over two hours. Mention was also made of the Nagpur Test against the South Africans last year, which saw the Proteas collapse for 79 in their first innings.
However, what was chosen not to be mentioned was that Hashim Amla had negotiated 167 balls and Faf Du Plessis 152 in the Proteas' second innings when batting would have been much tougher. Both of them scored 39 runs each, but more importantly, they showed that it wasn't impossible to survive on the wicket.
Then in Delhi, during the last Test, on another spinners' paradise, South Africa were faced with the task of saving the match, and who stepped forward? Amla again and AB de Villiers. The former played a 244-ball 25, which was not surprising for somebody who can be virtually immovable once he drops anchor on the wicket. But de Villiers' 297-ball 43 would have given special delight to the cricket connoisseur. He had only a few months ago slammed the fastest hundred in international cricket off 31 balls, and to see him mould himself according to the situation was an absolute treat.
Amla, Du Plessis and de Villiers weren't successful in saving the day for their team, but they showed that with proper technique, temperament and application, one can tackle a difficult pitch. In the same way, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow showed in England's first at Vizag, as did Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed in their second, that in spite of the hardship, one could spend time at the wicket if he had the wherewithal for it.
It is a given that Test pitches in India would be heavily stacked in favour of the spinners, considering that spin has been India's big strength. The day we start to make Indian pitches mimic those in England, Australia or South Africa would signal the death of the dynamism and beauty of Test cricket, for it lies in different pitches having characters of their own.
Adjusting to the spin in the subcontinent one day, the pace and bounce in Australia the other, and indeed the seam movement in England on yet another day makes a batsman and a team complete. It is with this objective in mind that the Australians had prepared special pitches with homegrown red clay that would give the feel of Indian square turners in order to prepare for the tour of the subcontinent.
England, however, looked ill-prepared overall to tackle Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav at Vizag. Their vulnerability against spin were exposed during the tour of Bangladesh, when a 19-year-old spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz wreaked havoc as England collapsed from 100/0 to 164 all-out in a session to concede a 108-run defeat in the second Test last month.
The Vizag pitch, even the English commentators acknowledged, was not unplayable, though difficult, without a doubt. India perhaps did have an early advantage having won the toss, but the mettle of true champions is gauged from their ability to turn adversity into opportunity.
However, the England spinners could not utilise the conditions as well as their Indian counterparts. Zafar Ansari, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid together gave away 344 runs for 10 wickets in the match, while the Indian spin trio conceded 279 runs, sharing 15 wickets between them. Ansari had a forgettable outing, going wicketless and giving away 45 runs in the first innings. He didn't bowl in the second. It was the same way that South Africa's Imran Tahir, Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt were left behind by their Indian counterparts.
Therefore, making villains out of the playing surfaces because of the travails of foreign batsmen, thereby undermining India's home successes has continued for long. Curiously, however, pitches are not blamed when Indian batsmen are made to hop on a WACA or a Gabba, but it is asked instead why BCCI doesn't make fast and bouncy pitches at home for the Indians to prepare better. It is perhaps time for us to be a bit more consistent in the application of standards, and appreciate that Virat Kohli's team earned their victory at Vizag as much as England lost the match. The pitch lasted almost the entire course of the match and was certainly no demon.