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On pitches where scoring runs is more a matter of luck than skills, it’s unfair to be overtly critical of batters


Eventually, there are bucket loads of runs. The pitch for the fourth and final Test between India and Australia is what they call ‘unresponsive’ to bowlers’ trickery and batters’ inadequacy. There are already three centuries in three days into this Test, two more than the grand total of one century in the previous 11 innings of three Tests across the two teams.

The 480 that Australia posted in their first innings is also the highest total in this series so far, beating India’s 400 in the first innings of the first Test in Nagpur. By all accounts, it’s the best pitch for batters, coming right at the end of the Test series.

The three pitches before the ongoing Ahmedabad Test, now famous for the golden chariot in which Prime Ministers of India and Australia took a spin around the ground on the first morning, were the real spinners’ paradise. Supporters of fair pitches diss them by calling them ‘rank turners’ (or worse ‘snake pits’), where the ball starts to turn viciously in the first 30 minutes of the first morning, even before the pacers are properly warmed up and spinners are mentally prepared to come in to bowl.

The rank turners are like a lottery. Any ball, however docile it may look, however well-prepared and cautious a batter may be, can spell doom. It may go straight with the arm as intended by the bowler or it may turn square ignoring all the instructions by the bowler. It may stay low or it may jump from a spot. And it has less to do with the ball or the bowler and more to do with the loose upper layer of the pitch. All a batter can do is wish that it’s his lucky day.

But international sport is ruthless. It’s not empathetic to those who are not outstanding. Underperforming players are shredded by fans on social media and criticized by pundits in the TV studios. The noise becomes even shriller when a game is lost. It doesn’t matter how difficult the conditions were. How could that player perform but not you, huh?

In 108 individual innings in the first three Tests, the 50-run mark was breached only eight times – seven fifties and one hundred. In comparison, 16 innings ended without scoring a run. If you think its par for the course, it’s not. In 286 Tests that India have hosted so far, including the Ahmedabad Test, there have been 1,757 fifty-plus scores and only 1,012 ducks. Overall, it’s been a steep challenge to score runs in the first three Tests. It required luck more than skills to perform well.

The Ahmedabad Test has now thrown up another challenge for the batters who were unfortunate in the Nagpur, Delhi and Indore lottery rounds. The pitch is not helping the bowlers. It’s a big opportunity for the batters to get some big runs under their belt. They ought to. The onus is on them to the make most of this one opportunity that has come after three nightmarishly tough chances.How fair is that?

Judging someone in such extreme conditions is unfair for both the judge and the one being judged. Even former Australia captain Ricky Ponting talked about it on the ICC Review. “I’m not looking at anybody’s form in this Test series because, for a batsman, it has just been an absolute, it’s been a nightmare,” Ponting said.

India’s head coach Rahul Dravid concurred. “You need to be realistic as to what is a good performance on these challenging wickets. You need to be realistic about what the benchmarks are, what standards are on these kinds of surfaces,” he said ahead of the fourth Test.

Thankfully, except KL Rahul, no batter has been benched by any of the two teams for performance-related issues. Matt Renshaw was also dropped but his inclusion ahead of Travis Head was in itself a wrong call to begin with.

On pitches where luck matters more than skills, it may not be right to judge a batter’s quality. It’s like rating someone’s walk on a slippery surface.

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