India finds themselves on the verge of a second consecutive World Test Championship finals berth after another dominant home win put them 2-0 up against Australia. And as it has every time India wins at home, the arguments against India’s pitches – “they’re biased”, “this is a dust bowl”, “these tracks always turn”, etc… – have made their way out.
Fascinatingly enough, between when I wrote this article and its publishing, Australia enjoyed their own session of spin-heavy cricket and have the Indians on the back foot after one day of cricket, and so many comments emerged about how these sorts of pitches are bad for cricket. Here’s why those arguments have no traction, unlike the subcontinent’s pitches.
The Arguments Are Only Made Against Turn
Swing, seam, spin, and pace are all integral to the game of cricket. However, because some countries have prioritized pace, the perception of the ideal cricket pitch has become something along the lines of “an ideal pitch should primarily have swing and seam on days 1-3 and develop some slight turn towards the end of the test match”.
In reality, though, this is a self-serving mindset for those specializing in fast bowling. Part of the beauty of cricket as a sport is the ability for different locations to serve up different playing conditions, leading to unique strategic battles in every series. While India’s pitches do have considerable turn and their team has excellent spinners to back that up, there are analogous truths elsewhere. England’s pitches support seam, mild swing, and medium-fast bowling, which they have in spades, while Australia’s typically have lots of pace and swing, lending well to their pace trio.
Both of India’s matches against Australia did end in three days, which also yielded some criticism – drawing parallels to similar endings during India’s 2021 series win over England – but such criticism was never given when strategic advantages went elsewhere. A 2020 session where Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins wreaked havoc on the Indian batting lineup ended a test destined to go the distance in three days. Much more recently, Australia’s pace trio and some solid South African fast bowlers took advantage of a very bowler-friendly pitch to end a test in a whopping two-day Australia win.
In those instances, most of the worldwide rhetoric was praising the bowlers, as well as fast bowling in general. These are valid praises, of course. However, the double standard is driven by a fallacy that spin is somehow inferior to fast bowling when it comes to “correct” cricket.
India Simply Develops And Plays Spin Better Than The Rest
India’s pitches don’t just offer up opportunities to their own bowlers. Australian spinners Todd Murphy and the notorious “Gazza” Nathan Lyon are seeing nice numbers in this series. New Zealanders Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel saw unusually high wicket tallies as well in the subcontinent. Why aren’t teams able to stop India at home, then?
Part of the answer is simple – on tracks that favor turn, India supplies better spinners. Most teams struggle to have more than one spinner that would make the squad outside of India (Aus is thin beyond Lyon, Eng is this beyond Leach, NZ doesn’t often have a spinner starting outside of the subcontinent, etc…).
India, on the other hand, doesn’t have enough slots to incorporate their excellent spinners. Axar, Jadeja, and Ashwin get the bulk of the test matches and are all excellent players, but even Kuldeep, Sundar, and Chahal, who are mostly limited to white-ball cricket, have the capability to excel in test matches. With such a strong and deep group, even the best batting lineups will struggle against India.
And to make matters more severe, Australia clearly doesn’t know how to play spin, at least spin on the level of what India is capable of throwing at them. In addition to masterful bowling by Jadeja, the biggest driver of Australia’s day three collapse in the second test was a series of ill-timed sweep shots that were poorly executed and shouldn’t have been attempted in the first place.
The men in blue then followed this up with a masterclass on how to properly play spin, taking the ball on the rise, inserting aggression and intent into their game plan, and making the right shot at the right time. There were some lost wickets, but they were in full control of the chase. Having spinners to practice against is part of the difference here, spinners who can bat at that, and players like Jadeja and Axar whose runs played an integral role in their win.
This doesn’t come at the expense of their pace attack, and a solid group of bowlers led by Bumrah, Shami, and Siraj is able to win on pace tracks, while their deep group of batsmen is getting better and better at dealing with swing and seam, as shown by India’s improved overseas record.
At the end of the day, the way to beat India at home is simple – don’t blame the tracks, instead, bring a good spin attack and learn how to play against one.
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