“There was nothing wrong with the pitch; rather the technique and temperament had to be positive”

 

The wicket for the second Test in Chennai remained the subject of interest among the cricket fans and experts even before a ball being bowled. After the heavy defeat in the first test, a rank-turner was always on the cards.

Four days ago, former Indian cricketer and now commentator predicted that we might see the second Test ending in 3 and a half or 4 days.

Chopra observed that considering how the pitches are prepared in India, the pitch for the second Test will be a rank turner, offering spin from the very onset. He also said that toss won’t play a huge factor in this match as the pitch would offer something for the bowlers from the very get-go.

He said, “Considering what’s happening right now, 5 day Test match, a 3-day turnaround, same surface, same square – this (the pitch for the 2nd Test) is going to be a turner. And toss will be taken out of the equation somewhat. In a sense that if you win the toss, of course, there’s an advantage but it’s not as significant that you can bat for 2.5 days. You just cannot, this pitch won’t be of that nature. I dare say, I believe, this will be a 3.5-4 day Test match at best. Toss will be critical but making it count will be a lot more difficult than the last match.”

After winning the first Test in style, neither the toss nor the wicket should sweat England that much. They have come to India with the mindset that there would be nothing but spin-friendly tracks. Thus, the ball keeping low and the puff of dust exploding from the track on Day 1 of the second Test should have been taken normally, but on social media, former England skipper turned commentator Michael Vaughan triggered the debate of “poor Test match pitch.”

Vaughan found his supporters regarding this matter along with harsh critics, but how could the basher of the Chennai deck forget that it was on this same deck two Indian batsmen scored centuries while the skipper – Virat Kohli played one of the best Test innings to remember for ages.

Rohit Sharma played a counterattacking knock on Day 1 and when a batsman is in that mood, it is always hard to find an answer, even though, if a team tries to dry up the runs of such batsmen, who are more dependent on rhythm, then, their staying time at the wicket shortens.

When the track starts to assist a bowler, excitement is obvious in and which can make the bowler get carried away – but that does not mean; full-tosses, shorter ones, and long hops should dominate.

Moeen Ali and Jack Leach bowled well, but with the kind of assistance the deck provided, Joe Root showed how to bowl effectively on this deck on the first day. This track demanded discipline and change of pace no matter how much assistance it provided the spinners.

For the information, Ali bowled 10 in the first innings of this Test, a match tailor-made for the spinners. In total, the English spinners bowled 14 full tosses. On 20 occasions they were cut or pull.

England were undone in response to India’s first innings total and Ravichandran Ashwin was the wrecker in chief. Neither Ashwin nor Axar Patel bowled any full tosses or long hops. Rather, they kept the line and length tight and let the skill do the talk.

Guess, what, Vaughan and his supporters cannot deny how poorly England batsmen applied them on the track, which required the technique and temperament of the highest quality.

When India batted in their second innings, Virat Kohli taught us about the application on this tough wicket.

Again, England dished out the unplayable deliveries along with full tosses, half-volleys, and long hops to take the pitch out of the equation, but nevertheless, that can never undermine the batting master class of Kohli.

After getting out in the first innings while driving Ali against a brilliant delivery, which turned viciously to castle the champion, Kohli decided to cut short his driving and attacking intent and get back to the school of Sunil Gavaskar.

Kohli changed his technique.

He opened his stance a bit more and trusted his defence. Ali and Leach pitched the ball consistently on the driving length to lure Kohli, but this time, the Indian skipper was well forward and played with straight – defended more often and the percentage of false shots dropped. At one point, he scored just 8 runs off 37 balls, but those eight runs were accumulated on the basis of sheer technique – occupy the crease, covert the ones into twos and play with a straight bat and late as much as possible.

Kohli’s false shot percentage today, 11%, was 10% lower than the match average of 21%.

He scored his 25th half-century and it was batting of high pedigree – a lesson for the young generation.

Cricviz stated, “Coming to the crease with England getting a bit of momentum late on Day 2, he took 20 balls to get off the mark. Across his Test career, only once has he faced more balls before scoring his first run, way back in 2012 at Ahmedabad, also against England, when he took 29 balls.”

“Once he was into his stride, he maintained this caution. Across the innings, he attacked only 14% of the deliveries bowled to him, well down on the Test average of 25%, and right at the bottom of his gearbox. Only once has Kohli faced 100 deliveries in a home Test, and attacked less.”

“Kohli was mixing up his approach to the spinners. He played off the front foot 58% of the time, and the back foot 42% of the time. He was riskier off the back foot, 16% false shots compared to 9% on the front, but in the context of the game and the conditions, neither was too treacherous.”

“He played with a positive intent and when your team has got that belief then you come into bat despite the fact that you might not have scored runs in the first innings. But look at his intent. He is either going right forward or right back. When he comes forward, he is smothering the ball, and when he’s going back, he is giving himself time to see what the ball is doing,” said Gavaskar.

“When the half-volley comes on, someone like Virat Kohli is never going to miss out on opportunities. Then again, using the wrist so well, turning with the ball and closing the face of the ball to make it go along the ground. This is classy batting,” Gavaskar added.

Then, Ashwin first gave a lesson on how to bowl on a rank turner and then provided a batting master-class with a sparkling hundred on a deteriorating strip. Kohli and Ashwin showed the likes of Michael Vaughan that they have that in abundance as India batted nearly 182 overs across two innings on a track that many deemed as under-prepared after England failed to get past 200 runs.

For Ashwin, it was the third time in his Test career when he notched up a five-for and a hundred along with it. Only England legend Ian Botham stands ahead of him with five such efforts in his career.

Regarding Ashwin’s batting, Cricviz stated, “Of his previous four centuries, the highest false shot percentage he recorded in any of them was 15% – today, that figure was 22%. Yet that was a natural consequence of his intent, Ashwin playing an attacking stroke to 45% of the deliveries bowled. Of the 162 centuries we have seen in India in Tests since 2006, only five have seen a higher attacking shot percentage.”

India’s batting exhibition in the second innings was a statement for all the Doubting Thomases on how to bat on a third-day track.

England were given a huge total to chase, but the wicket-factor was still playing in their minds and thus the downfall was inevitable.

Application was never impossible on this deck and whenever the English batters pivoted more on the back foot they looked in better shape.

Cricviz stated, “Root & Stokes have both looked a lot more comfortable playing off the back foot today. False Shots – Day 4: Root (Front) – 28% & Root (Back) – 10%. Stokes (Front) – 28% & Stokes (Back) – 20%.”

And most importantly, playing with an angled bat would only invite trouble.

The English batters repeated it.

There was nothing wrong with the pitch; rather the technique and temperament had to be positive.

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