All eyes on Nagpur pitch

Jamtha could also a green surface as India prepare for SA

All eyes on Nagpur pitch

India may have tried hard to bargain for more practice matches in South Africa to prepare for the series against them next year without much success, but they seem to have settled for the next best option – replicate South African conditions at home.

While the Eden Gardens wicket for the first Test against Sri Lanka looked to have turned out the way it did -- sporting as much grass as any of the seaming pitches in England or South Africa -- more by accident than design, KL Rahul dropped more than subtle hints that India were using this three-Test contest to equip themselves for the sterner tests ahead by producing the same settings.

Such moves, though, are always fraught with danger as there is every chance of those plans going awry. At times, during the course of the first Test, India did appear to have walked into their own trap but the hosts appeared to justify their strategy. The pacemen obviously relished the conditions while those who got amongst runs, were quite satisfied as they had come on a surface that tested their skill and character.

"Obviously, it's very clear that we're preparing for the next two years that we're going to travel abroad and play lot of cricket overseas," Rahul said after the first Test. "We are going to find wickets like this and it is going to be challenging for all of us. So, we wanted to prepare that way. As an opening batsman, an innings like this gives me a lot of confidence. The kind of partnership that me and Shikhar (Dhawan) put up was very, very satisfying, because if, as opening batsmen, we can negate this seam movement with the new ball then it becomes a lot easier for the batsmen coming down the order," he offered.

That brings us to the pitch here at Jamtha on the outskirts of the Orange city. The square at the Vidarbha Cricket Association was in the news for the wrong reason, having received a "poor" rating by match referee Jeff Crowe in 2015 after the third Test between India and South Africa ended inside three days. Even after the BCCI's explanation, the ICC issued a warning to the VCA against preparing such tracks.    

Hence, the pitch for the second Test from Friday can be expected to be vastly different from the one for the previous Test here for two reasons. One would obviously be to avoid any more censure from the ICC and the other would be to oblige Team India's rumoured request. Coincidentally, the pitch had a healthy grass cover, two days ahead of the start of the Test with small cracks spread across 22 yards.

It may have been the fear of former Pune pitch curator Pandurang Salgaoncar's fate after being caught in a TV sting that VCA curator Pravin Hingnikar refused to entertain any queries from the media but it would be hard for him to produce a replica of Eden Gardens. Firstly, the pitch in Kolkata was relaid only last year and as it is the case with new strips, the bounce will not be consistent. And unlike in Kolkata, which remained completely cloudy and rainy on the eve of the match and saw intermittent rains for the first two days thus ensuring dampness and moisture in the pitch, Nagpur has been sunny and sultry. While it's unlikely to sport as much grass as in Kolkata by the start, the remaining amount of it too will die due to exposure to harsh sun light.

In all likelihood, we may witness a classical Test pitch which will assist seamers at the start with spinners coming into play as the game wears on. The reverse swing may also have a big role if the pitch gets any abrasive. In the event of pitch playing fair both to batsmen and bowlers, the level-playing field for Lanka may significantly be reduced.    

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