Dharamsala’s pacy pitch set to favour Aussies

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    If Australia could choose a venue for a deciding Test in India, it would likely be Dharamsala.

    Following a 210-over stint in the field during India’s only innings in the heat at Ranchi, the climate at Dharamsala will be a relief.

    The pitch may also be to Australia’s liking.

    This domestic season in India, the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium has hosted three Ranji Trophy matches, India’s four-day equivalent of the Sheffield Shield.

    The first match was a high-scoring affair, with scores of 524, 480 and 1-114.

    The next two saw scores of 205, 105, 214 and 271, followed by innings of 217, 164, 293 and 114.

    Of most interest to Steve Smith, however, will be the style of bowler who claimed the wickets: of the 99 wickets to fall to bowlers, 89 were claimed by pace.

    I doubt another first-class ground in India would boast such a disparity in favour of the quicks this season.

    India must win the final match to reclaim the Border-Gavaskar trophy, a draw will not suffice, so Virat Kohli โ€“ and all of India โ€“ will be hoping for a result pitch.

    A strip similar to the one at Ranchi could prove problematic.

    India markedly outscored Australia in the first innings but there was insufficient time in the end to claim all 20 wickets to secure victory.

    Australia also gifted some soft wickets in their first innings of 451, and with a bit more diligence, could have posted a more substantial total.

    India was hoping that Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would spin them to victory on the final day but they failed to do so.

    Ashwin looked tired after a long international summer and failed to produce his customary venom. In the main, he has been short of his best during the series. Boasting a bowling average of 22.1 on home soil prior to the opening Test, he has claimed 17 wickets at 28.9.


    Jadeja was miserly in Australia’s second innings at Ranchi, bowling 44 overs for figures of 4-54. However, try as he might, he was unable to remove Shaun Marsh until he had faced 197 deliveries, despite having significant rough to target outside the left-hander’s off stump.

    Marsh’s 124-run stand through 62 overs with Peter Handscomb determined the outcome.

    The fact that the tourists lost just two wickets in the 71 overs it faced after Smith was dismissed before lunch on the final day will have bolstered their confidence immeasurably.

    All the pressure now rests with India.

    They came into the series on the back of an unbeaten streak of 19 Tests. The last time these two sides met in India, in early 2013, the hosts produced a four-nil whitewash.

    Yet, with one Test remaining in this series, the world number one is caught up in a dog-fight with their pride on the line.

    If the pitch at Dharamsala bears any resemblance to those that have hosted first-class matches earlier this season, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins will be licking their lips, and the odds of India taking the series will lengthen.

    Cummins belied his lack of first-class cricket in recent years by being Australia’s best bowler at Ranchi, with figures of 4-106. He had a heavy workload, sending down 39 overs. How he backs up will closely monitored.

    If there is some pace and bounce in the surface, he could be a handful.

    The tourists may contemplate taking in just the one spinner, with Jackson Bird engaged as a third quick. If the selectors go that way, it would likely be Nathan Lyon who would miss out.

    Since his historic 8-50 in the first innings at Bangalore, Lyon has found it hard going. His calloused spin finger may be a factor. In his last two innings with the ball, he has sent down 79 overs for a return of 1-245.

    By contrast, over the same period, Steve O’Keefe has bowled 98 overs and taken 5-235.

    In the same period, O’Keefe has bowled 20 maidens and Lyon just six, while the former has an economy rate of 2.4 against Lyon’s 3.1.

    Should Lyon be dropped, Glenn Maxwell may need to be called upon to deliver more overs.

    Like so many Tests in India, great fascination has surrounded the first three pitches used in this series. The trend will continue at Dharamsala.

    Australia will be hoping its pitch mirrors, in many ways, those already seen there this Indian summer.

    India will be looking to deaden the surface, but if it has even a little of the characteristics seen of late, it will add some real pep to the tourists’ step.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (158)

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 6:37am
      Jameswm said | March 22nd 2017 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      I find it hard to believe they won’t take all the bounce out of the pitch.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 22nd 2017 @ 7:38am
        Lancey5times said | March 22nd 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

        I imagine doing this would be quite hard. Doesn’t the soil have a lot to do with it? Could we make the Gabba low and slow (much like your average Queenslander) if we so wished? I ask these questions because I genuinely don’t know.

        • Columnist

          March 22nd 2017 @ 7:47am
          Glenn Mitchell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

          Good questions Lancey. I would think it would be difficult to make massively drastic changes to its natural state. Much I would think would rely on the natural base of the pitch. But … I am certainly no pitch or horticultural expert. However, it is hard to see this venue not being the most advantageous to AUS in the series.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:13am
            Jameswm said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

            True Glenn. Even if they do what they can to take the bounce out, it will still have more bounce than the other pitches.

            And I don’t know to what extent they can do it either

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2017 @ 11:20am
            Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

            Bounce really comes down to hardness. Which has a lot to do with the type of clay/soil used, but other factors also. There are things they can do to soften it. It can either be a bit damp, not rolled as much, or have all the grass just removed so it has nothing holding it together. But these things have other major side-effects to the quality of the pitch beyond just taking out some pace and bounce which can be detrimental also.

            But we’ve seen with the WACA that some pitches they bring up there are much quicker than others. So even with the soil and grass that they use there certainly is still a lot of variation. Whether that’s something they can easily control is hard to know (eg if the WACA curators could I’m sure they’d make it as fast and bouncy as possible every time, so when they get ones that are a bit slower without the usual bounce, it’s not because they’ve done something deliberate).

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 11:52pm
              Oingo Boingo said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:52pm | ! Report

              Apparently the old WACA pitches were prepared from a soil that was taken from a place named Woodanilling ,about two hours from Perth ,bug in recent years they have chosen to get it from somewhere locally.
              That’s the reason behind the WACA pitches being much more docile than in previous times .
              So it would appear that the type of soil mix had quite a bit to do with it.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:17pm
            Matth said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

            Wasn’t the stats on the Pune pitch that it was a good one for the quicksand as well and then we turned up to a Bunsen after the BCCI told the curator to stop watering the pitch and they started massaging it with wire brushes.

            Who knows what we will see on Saturday.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:34am
          Pedro the Maroon said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          Lancey, I resemble that remark!

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 10:25am
          qwetzen said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          And yet you call Qlders “low and slow”. Ha!

          It’s actually quite easy to make the Gabba low & slow. Just drop an MCG pitch in.

          • Columnist

            March 22nd 2017 @ 10:36am
            Glenn Mitchell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

            Freight costs may be an issue ๐Ÿ™‚

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 12:18pm
              qwetzen said | March 22nd 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

              I have a cheap solution for that. There’s so many Vics making the one-way trip from Bleakville to the Sunshine State now that a couple of dozen of their cars could each be given a trailer of an ‘MCG’ pitch to tow. Drop the trailer off at the Gabba and then the pitch is reassembled like the temples at Abu Simbel. Easy.

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:20pm
              Matth said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

              Let’s think about our pitches:
              – Sydney, after a few days they will turn on you
              – Adelaide, looks great but turns out to be boring, until it all falls apart at the end
              – Melbourne, who knows what you will get from one match to the next
              – Hobart, cold, wet and difficult
              – Perth, fast, cracking up and potentially dangerous
              – Brisbane, of late has promised lots of excitement but turns out to have nothing for anybody.

              Sounds about right

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 3:24pm
                spruce moose said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report


                I think Hobart is the most sporting pitch in Australia actually. Good conditions for fast bowlers early, good batting for a few days and then back to the bowlers for day 5.

                Brisbane are just dull bouncy roads that tour teams fall over on only because they aren’t used to the bounce. I think is Brisbane was the final test of a series instead of the first, they would be 5 day snore draws.

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 7:57pm
                qwetzen said | March 22nd 2017 @ 7:57pm | ! Report


                Isn’t “…dull bouncy roads (sic)…” an oxymoron?

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 10:42am
          Ruminate said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

          And the grass, mow it shorter and prepare it as a day 3(or4) pitch for day 1 of the test…at least that is what I imagine will be done

          • Columnist

            March 22nd 2017 @ 10:53am
            Glenn Mitchell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

            An option certainly, but depending on the pitch base, the bounce factor cannot really be lessened that way.

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 8:22pm
              Chris Love said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:22pm | ! Report

              Glenn any type of soil, depending on its make up will have an optimum moisture content that when rolled makes it as dense as it can possibly be. Take the Gabba or old Wacca soil and over water or under water and you will not get it to compact completely in that top 100mm. Under water those two pitches when rolling and give the MCG the optimum water when rolling and the surface at the MCG will be more dense.

              In theory the more dense per m3 the harder it will be and the more bounce you will get. So while the soil make up of the centre for the fourth test may have the potential to provide bounce all they have to do is under water it when rolling and it won’t compact as much and as a result won’t bounce as much. That could provide other side effects though.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 11:32am
          Emuarse said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          Because you ‘genuinely don’t know’, I will enlighten you .
          The average Queenslander is in fact tall and fast.
          Hope this helps.:-)

          • Roar Rookie

            March 22nd 2017 @ 1:09pm
            Lancey5times said | March 22nd 2017 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            You know a few? You’re obviously not one. You know how to use both the internet and punctuation

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 3:57pm
              qwetzen said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

              Even though I’ve seen it thousands of times, I never fail to have a snicker when I see a Vic car up here sporting that number plate slogan; ‘Victoria – The Place To Be’….. Snicker.

              • Roar Rookie

                March 22nd 2017 @ 5:54pm
                Lancey5times said | March 22nd 2017 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

                I’m actually a New South Welshmen living in Melbourne. I had to get a bit further away. Wasn’t comfortable sharing a border

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 7:16pm
                qwetzen said | March 22nd 2017 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

                Lancey, I don’t believe that “sharing a border” is an issue anymore. Like so many other NSW refugees, Pugsley is a self-proclaimed Qlder now. Curious how many NSW imports never go back to their roots when their playing days with Qld are finished isn’t it? AB, Thommo, Ray Phillips & Dirk Wellham spring to mind. Why is that you reckon?

              • Roar Rookie

                March 22nd 2017 @ 9:22pm
                Lancey5times said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

                And this is why the current players wear helmets…..

    • Roar Guru

      March 22nd 2017 @ 7:45am
      Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      They’ve shown so far this series that the pitches for the tests don’t necessarily show similar characteristics as the pitches for first class matches at the same venue have shown. So we’ll see what they trot out. Taking a pitch that tends to more favour the fast bowlers over the spinners and trying to just reduce the pace and bounce to less favour the quicks can be risky though as it won’t necessarily favour the spinners, just deaden the pitch and turn it into the slow, low, high scoring, draw-risky pitch. So they’d want to be careful doing that.

      Would be very tempted to think that Lyon would sit this one out. Unless a lot of his bowling has been struggling with his spinning finger and he manages to get that all miraculously healed up before this test starts, then you’d have to think either Bird or Swepson could come in for the decider depending on if it looks more pace friendly or not.

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 8:19am
        Nudge said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        It would be a massive massive risk to play Swepson, that’s just not going to happen. If they do have to replace Lyon it would be Bird or Agar in my opinion. Agar bowls different to Sok, a bit quicker through the air like Jadeja. He would be handy coming in at 8 as well

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 10:39am
          Sideline said | March 22nd 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          I’m worried about both those options. If the pitch is low and slow I think bird will struggle similarly to Hazlewood, but worse. With Agar I worry that will get eaten alive by the Indian bats on a pitch not suited to spin, and it will hurt his confidence for the future. I wish Starc was still fit.

          Anyway, I really can’t see them rolling out a paceman’s pitch in any event.

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2017 @ 11:27am
          Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

          Yeah, it would certainly be a big gamble to give Swepson his debut in such a crucial decider. Hard to see it happening. Especially as there’s little evidence that a wrist spinner in India is necessarily particularly useful (just one look at Warne’s record there can attest to that). The finger spinners tend to do the best there, and the odd exception, like Kumble, tends to be far from your ordinary leg-spinner, much quicker through the air to be more dangerous on the slower pitches.

          The most likely change would be Bird for Lyon if they feel the extra pace bowler would be a better option.

          The big issue becomes if the pitch means they really still want to go with two spinners, but Lyon’s finger injury really is too bad for him to be able to bowl well. Do they go in a spinner light and hope to do it with quicks even on a spinners pitch, or do they gamble on Swepson or Agar? Those two are there because, in reality, they probably are the best spin options in Australia at the moment behind SOK and Lyon. If Lyon really isn’t available because of the finger injury, but they still feel it’s a real spinners pitch, they may just need to take the punt on one of them.

          • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:01pm
            jameswm said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

            If Lyon’s finger isn’t up to it, it’s a choice between Agar and Bird. Holland is next best (look at his Shield results), but not a batsman and not over there.

            • Roar Guru

              March 22nd 2017 @ 3:12pm
              Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

              Holland has have a good season this season. I think his failure to have any impact when he replaced the injured SOK in Sri Lanka probably has pushed him down the list a bit, plus the fact they don’t really want to add yet another #11 to the team.

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:11am
        spruce moose said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        I think they will study David Warner IPL tapes and make a pitch tailored to make him suffer. :p

        Though I do agree that Bird may get a look in.

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 8:04am
      Mac said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      I think it would be dangerous not to factor in India’s own pace attack. They’ve played second fiddle to Jadeja, so far, with tight and probing spells. Jadav and Sharma could be just as damaging as Australia’s unit if the pitch is conducive to pace.

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 8:14am
        Nudge said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Apparently Shami is right in the picture to play

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:15am
          Jameswm said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

          Instead of one of the quicks?

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2017 @ 11:29am
            Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

            Go look at cricinfo and you’ll see all the Indian fans regularly commenting things like “why does Ishant keep getting picked”. So I think they’d be happy with Shami for Ishant.

            • March 22nd 2017 @ 11:40am
              Sideline said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

              Ishant is mystery isn’t he. 77 tests as a frontline quick, with an average of almost 37 and an economy of only 3.3. Yet he’s a main stay.

              He’s animated at least, I guess.

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:24pm
                Matth said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

                I feel the pitch keeps its normal characteristics, would India do the unthinkable and drop Ashwin for Shami? Or maybe drop Nair and go in with five bowlers? Remember they have to win.

              • Roar Guru

                March 22nd 2017 @ 3:13pm
                Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

                The 5 bowlers option has been their standard operating method for a while now. It’s actually unusual they’ve dropped a bowler in the last 2 tests.

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 8:46am
      Thunder Nation said | March 22nd 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      Shami is injured but I welcome him to play and break his finger again

      India are desperate

      India are under pressure

      Aussie selectors will prob bring in Swepson and he will take a bag

      Morelikely I am thinking Agar in for Lyon. A very very handy batter and a spin god

      Bring on the 4th Test

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:00am
      Matthew H said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      I was expecting to see Ranchi like pitches on all four occasions this series, a generally good batting wicket that if anything flattens and lowers, but with juicy footmarks.
      For whatever reason, the Indian finger spinners managed to find the footmarks a bit more effectively than the Aussies, who pitched most of their deliveries in the good middle section. A lot was made of Aus 7 left handed batsmen being a factor in this.
      While I don’t think there is the need to rush a specialist into the team I think that the wrist spin options need to be persisted with a bit under those sort of conditions. I was worried prior to the series that if the pace duo don’t excel on such pitches and the finger spinners are ineffective we would see record 1st inning scores from India. 9/550+ is in the order of records IMO.
      I was disappointed that the tail appeared to collapse in Aus 1st innings after Smith and Maxi set up the chance of a really big score, but with no Starc I guess there were always questions about the tail. Agar could maybe really help with the batting depth, especially if Lyon is not available through injury or dropped. The tail appears to be fairly important as there are still apparent weak spots on any given day in the top 6.
      Wade starting to disappoint too regularly as well. I think he needs to score in the last test or there may be a new wicket-keeper come the next series (prob not Neville either).

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:17am
        Jameswm said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Jadeja found the footmarks because he was bowling over the wicket at left handers. SOK was pitching it on line with the stumps at their right handers

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:32am
          Thunder Nation said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

          Jameswm did you see Sharmas “fall” in one of the final overs of the 3rd test??

          Do you think it was legit? Or was he trying to scuff up the pitch?

          The tumble he took looked a bit fake

          Can AUS win this test you think? Warner needs to contribute more than he has, he is the only aussie batsman who has done nothing

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2017 @ 11:33am
          Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

          The number of left-handers in the Aussie top-7 plus the lack of them in India’s top 7 has a bit bit to do with the footmark issue. That and the lack of Mitchell Starc to provide footmarks outside the right-handers off-stump.

          As I said in another comment somewhere, I do wonder if you are likely to get lest left-handed batsmen in India because, with the majority of quicks being right-handed, you tend to get a lot more footmark issues being a left-handed batsman, and in a place like India where footmarks for the spinners are a major part of the game, without a lefty to create footmarks outside the right-handers off stump you have a big advantage as a right-handed batsman.

          Don’t know if that’s true or not, but it would make sense. So many “left-handed” batsmen in world cricket at the moment are actually right-handers who just bat that way around. You are probably much less likely to do that if batting left-handed is considered in your home country.

    • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:24am
      bilo said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      How is Nathan Lyon’s dodgy finger? How is Cummins fitness? I’m really worried the next piece of news we get with him will be a stress fracture from the workload at Ranchi.

      • March 22nd 2017 @ 9:27am
        Thunder Nation said | March 22nd 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        Lyons finger is a mess, they will be crayz to play him

        Cummins is ok from all accounts (Reuters)

        Warner to be dropped for Usman

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 11:37am
          Ross said | March 22nd 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          Huge fan of Khawaja but not sure if I would throw him in for just one game unless there is injury

        • March 23rd 2017 @ 1:06am
          Curly said | March 23rd 2017 @ 1:06am | ! Report

          Warner wont get dropped. I think if you play Bird you have maxwell as the option spinner. granted he’s no star with the ball but can bowl darts to keep an end and offer a rest to the main 4. Amaazing we’re considering O’Keeffe as a legitimate top 3 or 4 bowler, but he has performed as another “youngster”. Usman wont get a chance. They will keep the current 11 with the only change likely Bird/Agar for Lyon only if the GOAT is unable to bowl.

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