A bird’s-eye view of India’s reserve players’ practice from the TNCA Club balcony confirmed that the team’s focus has shifted to the all-important day-nighter. Hardik Pandya was batting in the nets against the pink ball. After the match, Pandya, along with Pujara, came to the centre square at Chepauk to have another pink-ball batting stint. This is a series with a difference.
Conditions at the new Motera will be vastly different from Chennai. The pitch will have grass cover, a requisite for pink-ball Tests. Ahmedabad has already started setting the stage, as informed by Gujarat cricketer Samit Gohel.
“The ground has both red soil and black soil pitches and as of now a decent grass cover is there on both types of pitches. Pink-ball needs grass and the pitches are fresh. In the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy knockouts, although it was a white-ball tournament, the pitches behaved well. The ball was coming on to the bat, while bowlers, too, had some purchase,” Gohel told The Indian Express.
In late February, dew could be a factor. “What happens here, when the dew is heavy, the wet ball also becomes heavy. So it stops to swing, conventional or reverse. Spinners also struggle to grip the ball. Weather at the moment is a little hot and humid in the morning, but it’s getting cooler in the evening. Dew could be a factor if it’s heavy,” Gohel said.
Usually, in home conditions, India are unstoppable once they get the momentum. In 2016, after England had finished the first Test at Rajkot stronger, the hosts bounced back on a Vizag turner to win the second and ended up winning the five-match series 4-0.
Spin-punch did the job. But pink-ball Tests bring fast bowlers into prominence. Because of the extra coat of lacquer, pink ball requires live grass on the surface.
At Adelaide Oval, 11mm grass is routine. At Eden Gardens, the venue that hosted India’s first-ever pink-ball Test in November 2019, curator Sujan Mukherjee had left 6mm live grass on the strip. Extra coat of lacquer means more swing. Grass on the pitch means lateral movement off the seam. Then there’s the twilight period, when batsmen face difficulty to pick the ball.
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So England have the liberty to brush off the defeat and start afresh. The conditions for the third Test – the first at the new Motera Stadium – are expected to be more akin to the Blighty than the subcontinent. And when pacers are at the forefront, it becomes a battle of equals.
A lot is at stake in the third Test. India need to win this series 2-1 at least to qualify for the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) final and whether they can get there, and also their chances of winning the ongoing series, will depend on their performance in the day-night Test. The equation will be entirely different, making turner-induced momentum all but redundant. Little wonder then that Pandya is apparently on the team management’s radar provided he is bowling-fit.
England’s pace attack is world-class in favourable conditions. James Anderson and Jofra Archer will return to the Playing XI. Stuart Broad will be there and in all likelihood the very impressive Olly Stone as well. To qualify for the WTC final, the tourists will have to win the series by a 3-1 margin; tough call given that a subcontinental pitch is set to return for the fourth Test. For England though, possibilities that the next game offers are good enough to keep the dressing-room morale high. For India, the series, and their WTC future, hinges on the next Test.
As for India’s team composition, opener Shubham Gill sustained a blow on his left forearm while fielding on the third day of the second Test. He didn’t field today and was taken for a precautionary scan. He is expected to be fit for the third Test. And the team management would hope that fast bowler Mohammed Shami, who suffered an arm fracture in Adelaide, becomes available for selection.