It was only Day 1 of the Indore Test when the evergreen pitch debate returned. The Indore surface took many by surprise as the ball started gripping and turning from as early as 15 minutes into play. The amount of spin that was on offer is something that is usually seen on Day 3 of a Test, perhaps the reason why seeing the ball extract unimaginable level of turn caught everyone by surprise. Batters, bowlers, fielders, captains, coach and even the commentators were left scratching their heads seeing the nature of the surface that was on offer, while certain experts and former cricketers took to Twitter to even expect a two, two-and-a-half-day finish.
Matthew Hayden, who was on commentary duties, went on a rant, expressing his displeasure, stating how the Indore pitch is not an ideal advert for Test cricket and that he felt sorry for the crowds who bought Day 4 and 5 tickets. Clearly, given what has transpired on Day 1 and Day 2 where 14 and 16 wickets fell respectively, another Day 3 finish awaits. For a matter of fact, even India coach Rahul Dravid looked concerned as visuals of him chatting with the pitch curator when lunch was taken took the internet by storm.
Amid this clutter of noise, former BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, who is no stranger to tackling pitch controversies in Indian cricket, came up with a rather mysterious comment on the Indore pitch. Ganguly did not speak much on the topic, and instead said just one line, enough to add further mystery to the already raging debates. “See what happens at the end of the Test,” Ganguly told a bunch of reporters on the sidelines on an event in Kolkata, indicating that certain measures could be taken.
On Day 1, India were bowled out for 109, their fourth-lowest total in a Test match at home since 2012. It was another case of top-order failure as the star-studded trio of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara couldn’t leave behind much impact. Rohit was out stumped after a shaky start, while Pujara was clean bowled to a vicious off-spinner from Nathan Lyon. Shubman Gill received a good delivery from Matthew Kuhnemann, who went on to pick his maiden five-wicket-haul whereas Virat Kohli looked solid till he was given out LBW. Some dismissals were off good deliveires while others were self-inflicted.
However, the way Australia batted sort of negated the belief that the Indore pitch was entirely at fault. Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne showed tremendous application to play out the spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel and kept them at bay for a long time with a stellar partnership of 96 runs. But a late comeback from India in the final session led by Jadeja’s three-wicket-burst saw Australia finish on 156/4 at stumps on Day 1, leading by 47 runs.
For the first time in the series, India appeared to be under a lot of pressure. In Delhi too, India found themselves in trouble at 139/7 before Ashwin and Axar’s counter-attacking 100-run partnership bailed the team out of trouble. Having said that, Ganguly felt it is too soon to rule the hosts out of the match. “There’s plenty left in the game. They will come back. Today is only Day 1. Lots of cricket left,” he had added.
But at the end of Day 2, Australia are clearly on top and only a miracle can save India from the clutches of defeat. The second day saw Australia get bowled out for 197 at first – losing six wickets in 34 balls as they collapsed to a six-year-low – and then Nathan Lyon picking up 8/64. Lyon’s second-best Test figures in India bowled the hosts out for 163, setting Australia a meagre 76 runs to chase down. Barring Pujara – who scored a gritty half-century – only the second of the match – no other batter could get going. With wickets falling, but Pujara holding fort at one end, India were in the game, but a wonderful piece of fielding from Steve Smith, who plucked a fine catch at leg slip to snuff out Pujara, turned the game on its head, all but winning the game for Australia.