Juicy Eden pitch poses difficult questions

Last Updated 16 November 2017, 18:38 IST

Overcast conditions, intermittent drizzle, grassy pitch, floodlights burning in the afternoon, seam, swing and bounce… The set up was perhaps more English than Indian.

Sri Lanka don't churn out fast bowlers by the dozen in the same manner they produce mystery bowlers. Yet, on a balmy Thursday here at the Eden Gardens, Lankan pacers had the Indian batsmen edging, missing and nicking deliveries that swung in the air but, more menacingly, darted off the pitch as the hosts were reduced to 17/3 in 11.5 overs on the opening day of the first Test.

In a land where spinners have traditionally dominated the Test matches, the role of fast bowlers, by and large, has been that of a supporting cast. Occasionally, there have been instances when green pitches have come up either by design or accident. The ones that occur to you immediately are Nagpur 2004 (against Australia) and Ahmedabad 2008 and India were at the receiving end both times.

At Nagpur, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz took 16 wickets between them to trounce India by 342 runs.

Four years later in Ahmedabad, a Dale Steyn-inspired South Africa demolished India by an innings and 90 runs after skittling them for 76 and 328. Pacers Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makaya Ntini claimed 18 wickets between them on a pitch that sported grass on it.

Since it was re-laid last year, the pitch here has been generous to pacemen across formats. The previous Test on this surface saw fast bowlers account for 26 of the 40 wickets between India and New Zealand that the hosts won with Bhuvneshwar Kumar returning a five-wicket haul. The T20 match here between India and Pakistan last year witnessed fast bowlers dominating in a low-scoring thriller and this year, Bhuvneshwar rattled the Aussies again with a three-wicket burst.            

Staying true to its colour, the Eden surface saw the largely inexperienced Lankan pacers, especially Suranga Lakmal (6-6-0-3), call shots against a formidable Indian batting.    

By the little evidence that was available on the day, this pitch has to be by far the juiciest an Indian venue has come up with in recent decades. The intent may not have been to produce such a surface and it could just be down to the inclement weather that has persisted in the city in the last couple of days in the run up to the match. The pitch was under covers the whole of Wednesday due to constant drizzle and it remained so on the match day due to sporadic trickle. The ground staff naturally didn't have much time to work on the pitch or shave off the "excess" amount of grass.

While it made for a great spectacle, is it a good advertisement for Test cricket? What about the ebb and flow of Test cricket? Does it make toss too important?      

"I would love to say yes as a fast bowling coach but if you are looking at going through five days, I don't know whether that's the best option," Sri Lankan bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake noted when asked if it was alright to have such pitches once in a while to keep the excitement going. "When you have a grassy pitch, I believe it's a 50-50 chance for both teams and if that's the option one wants to take, as a bowler, as a fast bowler, as a fast bowling coach I would like to play on wickets like this. But it might be a nightmare for the batsmen," he opined.

(Published 16 November 2017, 18:02 IST)

Follow us on