So, cricket returned to Indian TV screens. And how! Some of us will say that cricket never left our homes. However, the preceding three months had seen a ODI series against Sri Lanka — Yes! We needed those like Cherrpunjee needs rain, thanks — and a lengthy series of T20 games. To me, these were months of intense dullness, induced by games that lacked substance or context. Indolent indifference and unbearable ennui resulted.
It was therefore refreshing to see a cricket match unfold like cricket should; the match told a story of aggression, calm maturity, deceit, courage, disintegration, foolishness, bravado, determination and perseverance.
It was also a story of one captain’s despair even in victory.
This was a story of Sehwag’s aggressive return to ‘form’, although in his case I am not sure what the word ‘form’ even means. His art defies form and sometimes, a consistent narrative. We can’t be certain that a lack of runs worries the man, just as it is hard to ascertain whether the accumulation of a substantial number of runs makes him any more content or confident than he already appears to be. He smiles benignly through pleasure and pain. We too must, perhaps.
This was a story of a young man’s calm maturity. Like Rahul Dravid before him, Cheteshwar Pujara appears to be the sort of guy every girl would want to take home to meet her parents. One girl already has, and the parents have apparently approved. It is inevitable that Pujara, Che as he is referred to by his growing legion of fans, will be compared to Rahul Dravid. Pujara presents a compelling case against genetic cloning; it would seem that this is just not necessary! The score was 1-134 when Pujara started his innings, which meant that he was able to play freely and without much pressure; at least initially. His calm maturity was evident however, after four wickets had fallen for 283 runs. He held the innings together after that point and slowly accumulated his runs with Yuvraj and Ashwin. In the end, it was hard to believe that he had made as many runs as he had; he was surreptitiously effective.
The post match analysis seems to have omitted one significant point in the game when Jonathan Trott seemed to claim a catch after he had virtually slept on the ball. It is hard to believe that this professional cricketer didn’t know he had grassed the catch. It was as funny as it was, in my view, an atrocious piece of gamesmanship. I can’t imagine Harbhajan Singh, for example, getting away with a professional foul of that sort. The match referee, however, turned a blind eye to it.
This was also a story of Altastair Cook’s courage, Kevin Pietersen’s disintegration and Ian Bell’s foolishness. Cook showed tremendous application in both innings. The England captain would have watched in agony as Pietersen and Bell, his illustrious teammates, lost the plot through a combination of foolhardiness and needless bravado. In the absence of effective technique to combat the turning ball, instead of application and patience, we saw brain fuses from Bell and Pietersen. But in both innings, Cook played with enormous pride and resolve and this will have given the England camp some comfort. There is nothing worse than a disintegrating captain of a team that loses badly. He might be boring to watch, but Cook is certainly emerging as an extremely determined and effective a player.
This Test match wasn’t as bad for England as the scorecard will have us believe. With a better team balance and greater application, England can bounce back in this important series. And I feel they will.
And talking of bounce, much of the post-match commentary was around MS Dhoni’s call for different pitches. Dhoni has been on the case of Indian curators for well over a year now. He was disgusted by the pitch that was provided to the visiting New Zealand team in Hyderabad and Bangalore in July this year. Yesterday, of the Motera pitch, Dhoni said, “I don’t even want to see this wicket.”
He then went on to say, “There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital. What we want to see is two good sides competing against each other with the toss taken out of the equation.”
After the match, Dhoni was criticised for his statements against pitches. The Times of India, in its opinion section adjoining the piece on the pitch, inferred that Dhoni “seems to be letting the thirst for revenge get the better of his cricketing sense”. Right. ‘This criticism of pitches is becoming a pattern with Dhoni’, some people yelled on late-night TV chat shows. ‘We must prepare sporting tracks’ yelled someone else. On another TV show Maninder Singh just yelled.
What Dhoni has asked for seems perfectly reasonable to me. What we want to see is turn and bounce on a wicket. Further, his point is that it should be fine for a wicket to turn right from the toss so that the toss does not become as vital as it currently is. If the match then ends in three days as a result of this turn and bounce, it must be down to the incompetence of the players and nothing else.
There is a nuance to this argument too and that is that no one questions a pitch if it starts bouncing and seaming from the first ball. So why question a pitch just because it is bouncing and spinning from the first ball? I think this is a fair point that deserves a patient hearing. Further, what he seeks is consistent and true bounce. Dhoni says, “What you don’t want is ridges in the wicket and then one ball hits your head and next, your toe.”
Teams from England and Australia have come to expect car loans for single mothers and pitches that turn in India. My sense is that the words ‘dust bowl’ and ‘rank turners’ have become disparaging in our vocabulary because of the disdain imputed through their repeated usage. However, that is the nature of wickets in India. The soil conditions dictate that wickets will turn. To ask for anything else (or to artificially provide anything else to visiting teams) is akin to hating Paris because it does not have the Sydney Opera house.