When the ball turns, cricket is exciting. There is a lot of guff that is spouted about pitches that aide spinners being unfair. While these criticisms usually come from those who have some affiliation with a touring side that has just been on the receiving end of a an absolute shellacking, they are still very frequent and still gain traction.
This misses the point of Test cricket completely. The home team should have an advantage. England play better on pitches that seam and swing. Australia play better on pitches that have true bounce and carry. And India do well on pitches that turn. There is no difference between these varying conditions other than their difference. Turning tracks are not some sort of nefarious cheating, they are just the norm in Asian conditions.
The joy of watching India play on a pitch that assists their spinners was in full evidence on day three in Kanpur as there was help for Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja from the very first ball. Just as we saw in India’s first innings, New Zealand got past 150 and then lost wickets in a clump, and it was Ashwin and Jadeja that did the damage.
First Tom Latham was pinned lbw by a ball from Ashwin that he played as if it would turn and it didn’t. Then Ross Taylor departed to Jadeja, lbw again, although this time it was not so plumb. It looked as if it may have been sneaking down the leg side.
The real prize in this New Zealand batting line up is Kane Williamson who had been mesmerisingly good on day two. It was Ashwin that broke through his defences. A ball that pitched wide outside Williamson’s off stump spun in viciously. Williamson attempted a cut and the ball crashed into his off stump. It was a brilliant ball that was more than good enough to see the back of the form batsman in world cricket.
Rather than leaving Ashwin and Jadeja bowling in partnership Kohli tossed the ball to Umesh Yadav, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma. It seemed an odd decision so early on in the day. It would be difficult for the two front line spinners to continue unchanged all day, but Kohli was reluctant to bowl them both in conjunction.
When Jadeja was brought back into the attack he picked up the fifth wicket of Luke Ronchi who missed a sweep shot and the umpire gave him out lbw. Once again in a series involving India the debate about the need for the Decision Review System (DRS) was centre-stage. It was obvious with replays, and even without ball tracking software, that the ball would have turned past the off-stump and Ronchi should not have been dismissed. There was lots of talk about how the umpire only gets one look and how hard a job it is to judge when everything happens so fast. This is an argument for DRS, not against it.
These series' in India are hugely important to the future of Test cricket, not having a system that is ubiquitous in the world is damaging the integrity of the game. There is no global sport left that does not have a system that allows for the review of decisions by officials, and cricket is actually at the forefront of this. That the BCCI are allowed to refuse its use in bilateral series hurts the sport they are supposed to be the guardians of.
The morning session saw four wickets fall for the addition of 86 runs, which represented a fine comeback from India from the position they found themselves in when rain ended day two. What happened after the lunch break was even more impressive.
When Kohli gave the ball to Ashwin and Jadeja in partnership five wickets fall in 35 balls for the addition of 12 runs. At one point Jadeja was on a hat-trick and he ended up claiming three wickets in the space of five balls to claim his fifth haul of five wickets or more in Tests.
In Indian conditions Jadeja has been phenomenal and at times he is bordering on unplayable. He doesn’t turn the ball big every ball, instead relying on subtle variations and the odd one gripping and going past the bat. In Tests in India he has claimed 55 wickets at an average of 15.6. Few would have expected this when he first came into this side but Jadeja is unquestionably one of India’s very best bowlers in home conditions.
As New Zealand crumbled to 262 all out India secured themselves a lead of 56 on first innings. With the visitors batting last on this pitch that was huge. By the time India reached the close on 159 for one the lead was up to 215 and the chances of New Zealand getting anything out of this game were slim and getting slimmer.
On the first day India got themselves in a strong position and then let it slip with some questionable batting and loose bowling. On day three they have put that right. They bowled brilliantly throughout and then showed the ruthless streak that is so evident in the best teams as they manoeuvred themselves into a position of complete dominance.
After the tea break India were scoring at close the a run a ball as they put their foot on New Zealand’s throats and applied some pressure. New Zealand did not bowl well, but India looked to attack.
It is difficult to call any day of Test cricket perfect for one team or another, but what India did on day three in Kanpur was close.