Pitch has been quite the buzzword ever since the first track in Chennai played “like a road” according to Ishant Sharma, and the second track like a “beach” according to Michael Vaughan. Everybody from Shane Warne to Mark Waugh had an opinion on it. There was even a suggestion from Simon Hughes to dock World Test Championship points from India’s tally, intensifying the debate even further.
Test cricket in India is not alien to these discussions and no wonder the press conferences, too, have taken kindly to it. Rohit Sharma, fresh off a marquee 161 in Chennai, was back to front the press on Sunday (February 21) but similar questions followed him to Ahmedabad.
Rohit said he’s yet to understand just “why there’s so much discussion around pitches” and had a simple message for cricket viewers and experts: talk about cricket, not pitches.
“Our team looks forward to playing in circumstances when everything is against you. When we travel outside India, we never complain about the pitches. We are happy to play on whatever’s on offer and move on. Everyone else should do the same, especially our experts. Talk about cricket, not pitches,” Rohit said.
“We don’t overthink about the pitches; we only play cricket. Pitch is same for both the teams, so I don’t understand why there’s so much discussion around it, about how it should and shouldn’t be. Pitches in India have been prepared like this for years. I don’t think anything has changed or anything should change. Every team takes advantage of their home conditions.
“That’s what the home-and-away advantage in cricket is. Otherwise cricket should do away with home-and-away advantage and ask the ICC to make rules about how pitches should be, and that they should be the same in India and outside India. When we go out, people make our lives difficult, so I don’t think there should be much discussion around the pitches. Discuss the game, discuss the player, how he’s batting and bowling. There shouldn’t be discussion around pitches because both teams play on it and whoever does it better wins.”
Rohit’s arguments aren’t too different from Axar Patel who had spoken in Chennai about the need to “change the mindset” when it comes to pitches that take turn from the first hour. Ravichandran Ashwin also spoke about how players need to work hard for runs just like they do on a seaming pitch and set the “same kind of benchmarks” when it comes to playing spin on a challenging, spinning surface.
Speaking further on the topic, Rohit said: “I don’t think about pitches. The pitch is what it is; it’s not going to change the more you think about it. So it is better to think about how to play, think about your technique. If it’s a turning pitch, think about whether you need to sweep or step out. If it’s a seaming pitch, think about whether you need to stand outside the crease, defend more or leave balls.
“As a batsman, I try to adapt myself and prepare my mind for the pitch. That’s why people are here. A lot of cricketers want to play cricket (at the highest level) but people who are here playing for India are picked because they understand the conditions better. So mindset, skillset is important in challenging conditions. Chances are that you’ll fail but it doesn’t matter as long as you learn from that,” Rohit added.
Cheteshwar Pujara had a look at the pitch in Ahmedabad and thought it looked “decent” but a lot could change in three-four days, he was quick to add. Rohit expects the pitch for the third Test, which is a day-night game, to be “more or less” the same as what was on offer in Chennai earlier this week.
“As far as the pitch is concerned, it’s still early days to talk about that. I don’t see anything changing in the pitch from what we played on in the second Test match. It’s going to be more or less on the same page, it’s gonna be turning as well. We are preparing according to that. Let’s see, when the day comes we need to still assess what it’s doing. Because it’s been a while since an international game has happened on this ground, so we still need to assess what it is going to be like.”
Eden Gardens had 6 mm of live grass for the first pink-ball Test in India and it will be interesting to see the kind of pitch that will be on offer at the Sardar Patel Stadium — a venue that hasn’t seen international cricket since 2014. Rohit might be right in shifting the focus back on cricket but the pitch talks aren’t going away just yet.