Sometimes you have to wonder if the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are on the same page. The Indian team were keen on playing on the kind of pitch that would have helped them prepare for the tough South African tour. Nagpur did exactly the opposite and rolled out a flat pitch.
Their shenanigans are not a recent phenomenon. A few years back when Sourav Ganguly wanted a spin-friendly pitch for a series-decider, they gave the home team a pitch that was almost as green as the outfield.
On that type of a pitch it was inevitable that India would be trounced by the Aussies. Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz ran through the batting line-up, not once, but twice. Now, just when the team wanted to get a feel of some bounce, pace and seam ahead of the South Africa tour, Nagpur gave them a pitch that has none of the above.
It is almost as if the pitch was designed to deny the team the invaluable practice they were looking for. The sad part of the whole episode is that BCCI can never penalise errant curators or associations as their office-bearers are beholden to state associations and thus captive to the vote dynamics that go with it.
Unfortunate as it might seem, the docile Nagpur pitch also took away sheen from skipper Virat Kohli’s double century and Rohit Sharma’s century. At least Saturday’s centurions Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara had to fight their way to their respective tons as the Lankans tried hard to protect their total.
On Sunday, after they had conceded a big lead, the visitors only went through the motions. They had been battered into submission by an unresponsive pitch and a run-hungry Indian batting unit to the extent that Kohli’s and Sharma’s milestones came across as hollow victories. The double hundred and century were worse than stealing candy from a child; it was like plundering runs off the local blind school boys.
Of course, Kohli and Sharma could hardly be faulted for their exploits. As professionals, they did what was asked of them. But on entertainment quotient, the day’s play was so one-sided that it was a letdown.
That said, what did a performance on these lines do to help the selectors in their quest to choose the team to South Africa? The team is expected to be announced after tea on Monday evening and as such, how much weightage could be given for a big innings here? Sure, the selectors could wonder how Ajinkya Rahane, who has been given an extended run, can fail even on this pitch and against this attack. But that’s it.
In the context of preparing the team for a tough tour of South Africa, Nagpur's pitch was clearly not good enough. Things could get worse for India if their four bowlers were overworked in search of an early victory. Straining the bowlers, particularly Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma so close to a big tour, could end up being counterproductive.
May be the BCCI, selectors and coach Ravi Shastri could take a cue from the Australian cricket team that toured India earlier this season. They not only rotated their fast bowlers, but also sent back some of them on some pretext or the other.
Starc who kept out of the IPL to preserve himself for national duty was later rested and primed for the Ashes. Josh Hazelwood too was kept on wool for the same reason. Later, Pat Cummins was sent home mid-way through the series to recuperate for the Ashes.
The Aussies were worried about the workload of their main bowlers and withdrew them from the India tour at every opportune moment. The Indian team too could do likewise with the workload of its key bowlers. Playing Tests with five bowlers would be one of the ways to achieve that.
By now it is obvious to all but some recalcitrant curators or associations that this Sri Lanka series is a mere sideshow leading up to the South African sojourn.
Indian cricket has much to sort out between now and early January. Flat tracks are only part of the whole issue.