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The Roar



The double standard of subcontinent pitch complaints

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15th February, 2021
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There are many reasons why England is about to lose the second Test to India in Chennai and the pitch is not one of them.

As the tourists were bundled out for just 134 in the first innings, a chorus of voices piped up crying injustice.

“Not good enough for Test cricket,” the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew said of the Chennai pitch.

“Very poor” is how Michael Vaughan described it.

Ravichandran Ashwin made a mockery of those calls on Monday night, the number eight striking a second innings 106 that hammered home India’s advantage.

In total, India made over 600 runs on what Agnew called a “beach”.

Quite obviously, those calls were proved very wrong.

But they also exposed striking double-standards when it comes to different conditions around the world.

A green surface that favours the seamers? Fine.


A dry surface that favours the spinners? Bad for the game.

As one Twitter user said, “It’s as if seam movement is a higher, nobler form of deception than turn”.

In 2018, a Lord’s green-top saw India trounced inside two full days of cricket.

In the aftermath, India’s deficiencies against lateral movement were (rightly) picked apart, not the state of the surface.

Yet as England’s inadequacy against spin was exposed in Chennai, analysis shifted blame away from the players and onto the so-called diabolical state of the wicket.


Perhaps surprisingly, it took Shane Warne to deliver some balance to the discussion, arguing the first Test pitch (where England had won convincingly) had in fact offered more assistance to the tourists than what the second Test pitch has to India.

“The last few days of the first test, the wicket started exploding and no one said a word about the pitch when India had no chance,” Warne Tweeted.

“At least this Test it’s been the same for both teams from ball one. Eng bowled poorly and Rohit, Pant and Jinx showed how to bat.”

Warne is right.

The pitch has been difficult from the get-go, and there are many rational reasons India have dominated.

They batted with far more conviction, for starters.

On dangerous surfaces, merely surviving (as England tried in their first innings) is fateful.

In compiling 134 in 60 overs, they went at just 2.2 runs an over.


India by contrast have ticked along at 3.4 throughout the Test.

Second, India’s spinners are far more accurate than England’s.

And finally, India are a dominant force at home who expertly play to their conditions.

India's paceman Mohammed Siraj (C) celebrates his fifth wicket with teammates

(Photo by Patrick Hamilton/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week’s loss, just like the 2017 defeat to Australia in Pune, are anomalies.

The next gripe in Chennai was a broader one; that if you lose the toss in India, such is the benefit of batting first, the game is all but over.

This is also a complete fallacy.

Since 2000, away teams in India batting first after winning the toss have won just six Tests.


India, batting last, have won 31.

While English fans were the ones moaning this week, Australians are far from innocent on this very subject.

How many times have we moaned about a rank turner being unfit for Test cricket, or even ‘doctored’ for the home side?

How many times have the Aussies been bowled out for 120, only for India to cruise to 1-120, rendering the argument redundant?

“Once again, the unplayable pitch starts looking kinda playable once the players who can play on it start playing on it,” Geoff Lemon said in India’s second innings.

Pitches that favour the home side are unfairly targeted on the subcontinent, when in reality it happens in England, South Africa, New Zealand and (to a lesser extent in the drop-in age) Australia too.

It should be noted that the England team themselves have not complained about the pitch.

In fact while dealt a poor hand with third umpire throughout the first innings, they admirably kept their mouths shut.


Whichever way you dice it, turning wickets provide compelling cricket.

Runs hold more value, batting skills are amplified, and fields are more aggressive.

Each ball is a contest.

While we don’t want Test matches over inside three days, it remains a preferable outcome than a batting-friendly road, which can suck the life out of all involved.

There’s a reason why so many experts, former players and fans have expressed an opinion on the current Chennai surface: because they’re all watching, glued to what’s turning into another compelling series.