'Pitch' certainly has become the buzzword as far as discussion around the third Test between India and England is concerned. And for a very good reason.
The match was, after all, the shortest completed game of Test cricket in terms of deliveries since the second World War. A match that saw a part-time off-spinner Joe Root collect a five-wicket haul that was reminiscent of Michael Clarke's spell at Nagpur in 2004. A match that was surpassed in terms of runs by a Twenty20 International between New Zealand and Australia played on the same day as Day 2 at Motera — which incidentally turned out to be the final day of the game.
India coasted to a 10-wicket win shortly after dinner break as the match witnessed one batting collapse after another over the course of five sessions, with England getting shot out for 112 and 81 and the home team imploding spectacularly from 98/2 to 145 all out in their first innings.
While praising the efforts of the spinners from both teams, particularly Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin, both experts and fans trained their guns on the curator at the newly renovated Narendra Modi Stadium (erstwhile Sardar Patel Stadium) for the kind of surface prepared for the game, much like the two Chennai pitches did in the Tests before this one.
The fact that the Ahmedabad Test was the shortest Test since WWII will inevitably provoke questions about the pitch & whether it was fit for purpose & its overall quality. This is understandable but there are a few important points to underline surrounding this debate. #INDvENG
— Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) February 25, 2021
India opener Rohit Sharma, the standout batsman in the third Test with scores of 66 and 25 not out, however did not buy any of those descriptions of the Motera surface, instead placing the blame on the batters for their shot selection rather than on the imaginary demons in the track.
"If I can recollect, lot of the balls most of the batters got out was to a straighter delivery. We also as a batting unit made a lot of mistakes while batting, it’s not just them. We also didn’t bat well in the first innings.
"Pitch had nothing as such, no such demons as we call, there was nothing like that. It was a nice pitch to bat on, once you’re in, you can score runs as well as we saw," Rohit told reports in the post-match virtual press conference following India's dominant victory.
After getting outbatted by the visitors in the opening Test in Chennai, Virat Kohli and company staged a remarkable comeback both with bat and ball. It was Rohit who took the initiative with the willow as he struck a majestic 161 in the first innings of the following Test at the same venue, with Ravichandran Ashwin following it up with a ton in the second essay.
'Hitman', as he is referred to by his fans, said the Indian batters had learned from their mistakes in the first game and produced a confident display on a pitch that offered a lot more turn. Additionally, he added that the hosts intended to do the same going forward following a below-par display at Motera while dismissing talks of the current set of Indian batsmen not being as adept at playing spin on tough surfaces as some of their predecessors.
"If you look at the Chennai Test match, it was turning a hell of a lot (more) than what it did here to be honest. A lot of the batters got runs there in the second Test match. Like I said, in this Test match, we had to be honest to ourselves and accept that we didn’t bat well.
"But in Chennai, which had a lot more to offer than this pitch, we batted well on that pitch. We learnt from our mistakes, guys applied themselves, Ashwin got hundred, Ajinkya in the first innings got fifty, Virat got sixty-odd in the second innings. If you apply yourself, you can still score runs...
"So one game, we accept as a batting unit, in this Test match we didn’t bat as we would have liked to," added Rohit.
As for his approach that made it look as if he was batting on a surface vastly different from the Motera surface that saw eight ducks and even the great Joe Root struggle, Rohit said it was all about the intent and finding ways to score runs.
"To be honest, I didn’t do anything different. When you’re playing on a pitch like that, we’ve spoken this many times before, that you need to have an intent. You need to look to score runs as well because you can’t just keep blocking.
"My thought or my intent was not to survive. My intent was there to try and score runs as well while respecting the good balls, so that’s all I tried to do.
"When you’re batting on a wicket like that, you need to have a clear mindset, which I think I did until I played that sweep shot in the first innings.," said the man who has well and truly cemented his place as the Test opener after a series of confident knocks.
As for the man of the moment and local boy Axar Patel, who collected his maiden 10-wicket match haul in only his second Test appearance, "simply brilliant" is how Rohit described his Player of the Match-winning performance.
"Axar was simply brilliant. We saw just coming out from nowhere in the squad is never easy, and to perform as well is never easy.
"First game, he was out injured, he was slightly down. But then he came back, bowled very well in Chennai and then bowled very well here as well. He understands the conditions really well. He knows how to vary the pace and what lines to bowl, which is very, very important as a bowler," added Rohit.
While the surface used for the third Test remains a divisive topic for fans and experts alike and will likely continue to attract barbs on social media in its aftermath, one wonders if the Indian team management will stick with their request of preparing a dust bowl for the fourth and final Test, which will also take place at the same venue starting 4 March.
Like some have pointed out, India showed the stomach for a fight against some of the world's best pacers on the seaming Australian surfaces recently, especially with several of their key players missing, and it wouldn't hurt their chances too much if the curator went with a slightly more balanced track that ensured a bit of everything for players across departments.
The home team though, are in no mood to make things any easier for the Joe Root-led visitors, especially since they are yet to officially confirm their name as New Zealand's opponents in the World Test Championship final at Lord's later this summer.
And while they wouldn't hope for another two-day affair that was described by Kohli as "bizarre", they will hope to make things as easy for the Ashwin-Axar pair to be able to dismantle the English batting unit again.
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The suspension of the IPL because of the devastating coronavirus outbreak in India has left England with a potentially larger player pool than they envisaged for the two-Test series against New Zealand.
Mumbai Indians will enter the game after their four-wicket win over in-form Chennai Super Kings courtesy Kieron Pollard's blitzkrieg.
Big names such as skipper Virat Kohli and vice-captain Rohit Sharma will not be part of the tour as they will be engaged in a marquee five-match Test series in England.