When the South African batting carnage was at its peak in the ODI at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium last Sunday, some kind of madness (at least in my very partisan view) seized the BCCI. It started a Twitter poll asking whose century did we enjoy more, Quinton de Kock’s or Faf du Plessis’s. As a fan, it irritated me no end, as probably it would have irritated tens of crores of others. And mind you, this was when AB de Villiers was only getting started.
Now I am too much of a cricket fan to take kindly to this kind of mockery. So I dropped my journalistic pretence immediately and tagged BCCI to ask which one had they enjoy most? And whether they were on India’s side or the rivals’ and why were they adding insult to injury. To those who responded saying I should be more big-hearted, that it is after all a sport, and we can also enjoy South Africans demolishing our bowlers, or asked where had my love of liberalism and diversity disappeared, I have a simple answer. There is no liberalism, big-heartedness or non-partisanship when it comes to cricket. However much I may write and speak demanding that we be open-heartedly patriotic, rather than narrowly nationalistic, I must clarify that it doesn’t apply to cricket, or in fact any sport in which India has a stake, including hockey, tennis, badminton and increasingly now, my home state Haryana’s speciality: contact sports like boxing and wrestling. In any of these games when India plays another nation, most of us are blindly partisan. Certainly, I am. Sports fans think from the heart, and must be excused for doing so.
But that is no reason for our sport administrators to stop using their heads. I believe that the Wankhede curator prepared an utterly flat wicketand Ravi Shastri specifically complained to the person in-charge, former Test cricketer Sudhir Naik, about it. I don’t know what language he used, and being Indian coach, he should be watching it anyway. But as a fan I would use something tougher for the BCCI.What is the point of making pitches so batsman-friendly that the entire series becomes a lottery on toss. The logic that what is good for batting first should also be good for batting second doesn’t always work in day-night matches. This is not to say that if India had batted first, they would have topped 400. But batting first on wickets like these gifts you what South African captain AB de Villiers so aptly called the "scoreboard pressure".
In cricket it is perfectly normal for home sides to prepare wickets to suit their teams. Only in India have we lately got obsessed with the idea of producing “sporting” wickets. The policy is a disaster. It robs you of your own strength of bowling better spin and batting against it with greater skill. Similarly, it helps the opposition get big scores, especially if they get to bat first, whether in Tests or ODIs. This is wrong.When India tour overseas, no country makes “sporting” wickets. Australia, South Africa pack them with bounce knowing that is what our wristy batsmen find difficult to keep down, particularly as they have super-fast bowlers who can get the ball to rise even from a decent length. England are happy to leave grass, because they have simply had the best seam attack in the world for some time now, led by James Anderson, and they play the moving ball well, particularly if it comes at a reasonable pace. We have suffered while touring each one of these countries. Our batsmen can’t handle the bounce and our medium-pacers can’t use it. It shows in our performances overseas.
An interesting thing to note is, whenever these countries have prepared a truly seamer-friendly pitch, as at Perth in 2008, Johannesburg in 2006 and Headingley in 2002, India has been able to do better, winning each time. This has enabled our seamers to take 20 wickets, and when batsmen have used their better skills and training, India have won.
India’s cricketing rise began under Sourav Ganguly, 2001 onwards. It was built on five world class batsmen (Sehwag, Dravid, Sachin, Laxman and Sourav), two world class spinners (Kumble, Harbhajan) and one or two highly skilled seamers: Srinath, Sreesanth and Zaheer. If the seamers were able to take early wickets in swing conditions, India were in the match.
In India, on the other hand, our reliance was on spin and will always remain so. If our pitches are low and dusty (see what Pakistan is getting made for its “home" Tests in the UAE), several things happen. One, overseas batsmen can’t score freely without bounce while our wristy ones do better. Two, our spinners are effective from day one while our batsmen can handle most of the foreign spinners better even on wearying pitches. And most curiously, even our seamers become more effective in these conditions. Rough, dry pitches scruff up the ball faster, enabling reverse swing and also, because the ball keeps lower, they get a lot more LBWs. See how effective Zaheer and Srinath have been at home. Srinath, for example, took 128 wickets in 35 Tests overseas at 33.76 against 108 in 32 Tests at home at 26.61. It is not to say Indian seamers did better in spinning home conditions as overseas, but the fact is those pitches did not make them as ineffective as foreign pitches made our spinners. And our batsmen versus any opposition’s in home-spun conditions usually did better, barring the one recent exception of England in 2012.
The BCCI has erred greatly in making green wickets for domestic cricket, so green in fact that even Karnataka’s Vinay Kumar becomes a killer seamer. But when a foreign teams come, they make flat beauties like Wankhede, rolled to death. Surely we have to make our cricket more competitive. But it can’t be done by denying it home advantage at, where else, but home. That is why I am angry as a fan with what BCCI has done in this last ODI series.
This post was first published on the author's Facebook page.