Why India certainly can, but shouldn't, make Indore-like Test match pitches

As much as they reserve the unquestionable rights to determine the nature of surfaces, the hosts should be more pragmatic and tactically wiser in pursuit of home advantage. 
Indore pitch?width=963&height=541&resizemode=4

Rohit Sharma was having none of it. Even as the surface in play for the Indore Test came back to haunt the Indians, their skipper posed a stern defence against the perpetual "pitch talk" at the press conference following his team's rare home loss. 

"This pitch talk is getting just a bit too much," said an adamant Indian captain, annoyed by constant scrutiny on pitches through the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and previous home series. "Every time we play in India, the focus is only on the pitch. Why are people not asking me about Nathan Lyon? How well he bowled. How well Pujara batted in the second innings. How well Usman Khawaja played."

In an earlier press conference, batting coach Vikram Rathour had indicated that the World Test Championship (WTC) points up for grabs had influenced India's pitch-inclination, stating it's "our strength" to play on turning pitches. Throughout the series, Rohit hasn't been interested in "looking too far ahead" but his argument, too, was based on India playing to their perceived strength. 

"Before any series is played, we decide on what kind of surface we all want to play. It was our mutual decision that we wanted to play on these kind of wickets," Rohit said, before playing down the suggestion that India haven't budgeted for the track causing trouble to their own batters. "I don’t think we’re putting pressure on our batters," he was quick to add. 

Essentially, Rohit was asserting India's right to determine the nature of the surfaces they want to play their home Tests on. No matter how many questions the hosts face from all corners, they believe - and are absolutely correct in believing - that no one has the right to put the ethical connotations of their pitch preparations under inquiry, although it remains a fact that the ICC went on to rate the pitch 'poor', as it did for the Pune Test, which also India lost, in 2017.

Somewhere down the line, this belief is a byproduct of Indians being the most forgiving, proud tourists despite being made to serve the toughest possible surfaces by the same oppositions that they dish out the turning pitches to. 

Irrespective of the conditions designed to put their defence to the test and to nullify their strengths, Indians have never complained. Over time, besides the obvious upskilling, it's this attitude and cultural acceptance that has made India a side more successful on away shores than the ones they happen to play in home conditions. 

Be it the greats of the past or the modern-day stalwarts, Indians have adjusted, adapted, and found means to succeed without complaining about the pitches they've played on. It's this proud attribute that makes an Indian team put a visiting side through judgement on character and demand that they, too, would go about their business without complaining. 

To their credit, the Australians have earned the respect of their Indian counterparts over the past three Tests. Murmurs from former cricketers aside, the ones on the field led by Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, and Marnus Labuschagne, these Aussies have taken to difficult tracks in Nagpur, Delhi and Indore with grit, resilience, open-mindedness and above all, skill. 

Be it their ability to defend astutely with the bat in front of the pad or their spinners' intelligent use of the side-cutters to accentuate natural variations, most of the energy has been conserved in adapting to the conditions. Why, they can approach the Ahmedabad Test with belief, knowing they were one collapse-reversal in Delhi short of changing the same 2-1 scoreline in their favour. 

Why India's pitch-inclination is tactically misplaced

But this isn't an exercise to praise the Australian adaptability or to admire India's cultural mindset. It's one to address the tactical misfit that the Indore pitch still was to an Indian side undergoing a sharp skill decline, experiencing evident wear and tear about their established greats, looking ever so vulnerable and brittle in what was once the firmest of standings and staring at an imminent transition. 

Both words are key. The skill decline and the imminent transition. As much as India retain the unquestionable right to get the pitch they want for a home Test, so long as it escapes the 'poor' rating from ICC, in opting for the driest possible deck of the three made on that Indore square, they left themselves on shaky ground, exposing chinks in their armoury that weren't as unshielded or endangered before. 

Back in time when Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara were in their pomp and the rest of their batters had a greater window of respite from the tracks not influenced by the WTC points, they would exercise their dominance over the touring teams, using their spin greats R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and rising pace stocks to widen the gulf between the two sides on traditional Indian pitches where the bounce is true and the turn is slow and gradually progressive. 

But on raging turners - and for that matter, Indore was a track prepared on short notice that turned sharply with inconsistent bounce, which made decision-making only tougher for batters - India give opposition spinners a greater say in the proceedings, downsizing that innate skill gap, when the likes of Kohli, Pujara and the rest are in desperate need for some breathing space. 

With the rigours of overseas terrains finally making a seemingly irrevocable dent in their respective games, the two Indian greats would've hoped for some ease of life in home conditions. What they've had instead is the worsening of their fortunes on tracks perhaps harder than even the ones they've repeatedly tackled overseas. Three Tests into a home series, only once either of the two have had a fifty from a combined total of 14 innings. That's telling, not just of the state of their games but also the conditions they've had to encounter. 

The struggles of the two modern-day giants have only put an in-transition batting unit under deep strife, with Shubman Gill, and Shreyas Iyer, at least overseas, yet to establish themselves in a line-up missing their game-changing wicketkeeper-bat and where their ageing captain is perhaps the only one in the pink of health with his batting game. 

That is the other knock-on impact of Indore-like pitches: India are approaching a transition with the likelihood of players such as Gill never quite bolstering their resolve and confidence that batters have historically derived of runs in home conditions. Such demons could then seep into their systems and there is a threat that the acute shortage of belief reflects in their footwork and shot-making when they play abroad. 

For all practical purposes, four years down the line Gill would be batting No.4 for India in Test cricket, heading a batting line-up where say Yashaswi Jaiswal is opening the innings and someone else is shouldering Gill's middle-order responsibilities. The last thing India would want is for them and others to build on their respective Test careers on a shallower footing to the times when Rohit, Pujara and Kohli began theirs. 

Four years down the line, Ashwin will no longer be playing Test cricket and Jadeja will be entering his twilight. What India can ill afford is to cut short the learnings of their next rung of spinners, who would be better off assessing their growth on traditional Indian tracks to be able to one day emerge as adequate enough replacements for the two spin diamonds on India's jewel. 

If all Axar Patel or Kuldeep Yadav or Saurabh Kumar did is to turn up to get wickets, they will be half the bowlers at any stage of their promising careers and never be up for the dogmatic challenge that is spin bowling overseas. We've already seen how such an approach can plague on a spinner's development with teams like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Their spinners look out of place the moment there is no consistent turn to plug the holes in their bag of skills. 

So as much as India reserve the bragging rights to their home surfaces and the tactical elements compel them to put the word 'home advantage' in steadfast defence of all questions and arguments, the same tactical elements shall force them to approach conditions in India with greater pragmatism and understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. If all India did is to play for their present above anything else, they'll be selling their future well short.