IND vs END 2nd Test – Chepauk – the Pitch Perfect
The greats say it’s better to get accustomed to the conditions of the places you visit than to start whining about them. But who listens to the wise ones when everyone is entitled to express their own opinions these days? The ongoing Test series between India and England is a perfect example. After India won the second Test by 317 runs, the argument over the turning pitches reignited by few tweets made by the English legends. Some said the pitch is a shocker while some labeled it as a beach. Was Chepauk that bad to play?
Let’s find out how the land lies.
The Drama Behind
The argument restarted a few days back when India thrashed England in the second Test at Chepauk stadium by 317 runs. Batting first, India scored 329 runs in the first innings. Chasing the first-innings total of India England’s batting collapsed on 134 runs. English batsmen Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes showed intent at the end to narrowly avoid the follow-on. Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took his 29th five-fer – 23rd at home. This sparked a massive debate on social media.
Former England Captain Michael Vaughan Tweeted,
“It’s entertaining cricket as things are happening all the time but let’s be honest this Pitch is a shocker.. Not making any excuses as India have been better but this isn’t a Test Match 5 day prepared Pitch… #INDvENG.”
Vaughan found Kevin Peterson and Mark Waugh on his side who referred to the pitch as a beach and unacceptable respectively. Contrary to their opinions, Shane Warne and Mike Atherton replied with a series of tweets justifying the importance of the players and experience.
In the second innings, India added 286 runs to put a target of 482 runs on the board. England barely managed to score 164 with the help of some fireworks down the order from Moeen Ali. So, what did go wrong with the visitors after winning the first Test of the series on the same ground 5 days earlier? Was the Chepauk pitch responsible for their defeat? The blame game by the greats of the England cricket community simply proved immaturity in reasoning.
So, what exactly happened? Here are a few possible reasons.
The Drama Unfolding
Both Teams Play on the Same Pitch
No doubt the pitch was challenging but it was not unplayable. Indian opener Rohit Sharma and middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane proved that the longer you stay on the pitch the more runs you score. Rohit hit a classy 161 runs partnering with Rahane. Rahane, on the other hand, played textbook shots throughout the innings before getting dismissed on 67. In the second innings, Indian captain Kohli showed everyone the manual on batting over spin-friendly pitches. His 62 runs clearly indicated that the pitch was far from being unplayable. Ravichandran Ashwin looked like he wanted to show the doubters that one can bat easily knowing how to play spin. Batting at number eight, Ashwin scored his 5th century. Indian team scored 615 runs in two innings by playing more than 180 overs.
Hence, blaming the pitch for the poor show does not make any sense unless both teams suffer from the turn or unevenness of the surface.
With pitches assisting spin, a batsman should spend more time on the pitch actively. England registered their lowest score on the shore in the first innings. They played 114 overs (a little less than 4 sessions) compared to India who played 181 overs (6 sessions). A minefield (as described by English commentators) could not have offered such long durations for batting.
The Mindset of Teams and Players
On a spin-friendly pitch, a batsman has to be proactive and not reactive. England went on the ground with the only hope – to survive. When a team plays too defensive the opposition needs nothing but a good delivery. England literally gave India permission to go heavy on them. Except for Ben Foakes and to some extent Ollie Pope, no one showed any intent to understand the turning and play the spin.
Indian bowlers, on the other hand, made good use of the pitch. They varied their pace elegantly. They managed to extract turn for the pitch with flatter trajectories and quicker pace. English spinners tried to bowl only at the rough areas which were tackled by Indian batsmen smoothly playing sweeps.
The Experience and Quality of Players
England rested their key players in accordance with the rotation policy. England’s first 3 batsmen had a collective experience of 40 Tests before the game. All three of them were playing their third Test match in the subcontinent. With this drawback, it was a kid’s guess to predict what was going to happen at Chepauk. The spin department of India was superior to their opponents’. Led by Ashwin, the Indian spinners spun a web across the pitch with astute pace and flatter trajectories. Though India had a debutant (Axar Patel), his exposure to world cricket made the best use of his skills at Chepauk. English spinners did not bowl to the length of Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav. Both Ali and Leach kept bowling without any variations. In fact, Ali bowled more than 10 full tosses and around 20 short-of-a-length deliveries. This actually hammered badly on the English side.
Statistics of Spin-Friendly Subcontinent Pitches
England played in Galle before this tour. On the spin-friendly track, English spinners took 24 out of the 40 possible wickets. On the other hand, in India, their spinners took 26 out of the possible 40 wickets. The stats show that the England bowlers improved their contribution in the game, still, how could a spin-friendly pitch make them lose the Test?
England won all of their 3 Tests on the turning subcontinental pitches before coming to this game. With England winning the games, no one complained about Galle and Chepauk pitches. They had enough exposure to the spinning pitches in India, Sri Lanka and the UAE.
In fact, in 2012, England won the series against India on the same turning pitches. Then English captain Alister Cook scored 532 runs in 4 matches with 3 centuries. Pietersen, who is tweeting about the Chepauk today, was the second-leading run-getter for England at that time. This time around, the England side lacked such sense of play.
Out of 22 players from both teams, no one made any complaint about the pitch. Both Rohit Sharma and Axar Patel defended the pitch saying it was more about understanding the turn and bounce. Joe Root defended Rohit Sharma’s comments on home advantage saying the pitch was OK and was not the main reason for losing the second Test.
ICC Rule for Rating a ‘Poor’ Pitch
ICC’s rule for rating a pitch poor says that – “a pitch may be rated “poor” if it offers excessive assistance to spin bowlers, especially early in the match.” The pitch started offering some assistance to the spinners in the final 20 overs of the first day. This situation is somewhat similar to many pitches in the subcontinent. Moreover, most of the English players got dismissed playing their shot too defensively. So, if the pitch could not be rated as poor in accordance with the ICC norms, it is playable.
The Drama Concludes
Subcontinent pitches are spin-friendly. That does not mean they are unplayable or shocking to those performing on them. These pitches offer a home advantage. Blaming subcontinent pitches is an old English tradition that gets triggered when they start losing. Isn’t it the time for the visiting side to improve playing on spin and try finding another reason for defeats?
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