On the eve of the first Test match between India and New Zealand, Indian coach Anil Kumble was busy trying to defend the pitch at Kanpur and explaining that team India had not given any instructions to the curator to provide a pitch that would offer extra help to the spinners. This was before even a ball had been bowled or anyone had even seen the pitch!
All teams push their home advantage to the max to win, however, when it comes to India pushing their home advantage, it’s almost seen as India virtually resorting to cheating to win! The large hue and cry that existed around the pitches used in the Freedom Series against South Africa is evidence of this stigma that Indian pitches, designed to help Indian spinners, seem to carry around the cricketing world.
During the Freedom Series held last year, the general impression was that SA had been denied a fair contest in the series due to the nature of the pitches used. However when Indian sides in the past toured SA and had to play on pitches designed to help the home side, no eyebrows were raised, and team India was expected to adjust and acclimatise and rise to the challenge and compete.
Setting up pitches to suit the home team
Let’s take the case of New Zealand and the Kiwi reporters who were worried about the nature of the Kanpur pitch ahead of the first Test. Pitches in New Zealand have traditionally been the most green wickets used anywhere in the world, especially when teams from the sub-continent have toured there. However, for some reason, NZ rolling out pitches that are in tune with the strengths of the Kiwi side is seen as fine.
However, when hosting other teams, India must use pitches that only marginally give it an advantage! The idea is not to criticise the touring New Zealand side. If anything, New Zealand is one of the most likeable touring sides in world cricket and have been prepared to put their head down and compete in this series on whatever pitches they play on.
The idea is to explore and understand why helpful pitches in India seem to carry a sense of stigma in the cricketing circles when the reality is that all nations prepare pitches to help the hosts.
There have been instances in the past when Australia have very openly challenged teams (esp. India) to rise to the challenge of playing on fast bouncy wickets in Perth, and what is more, the Australian players have gone onto ask for the pitches to be used to be faster and bouncier than ever so that the touring Indian team struggles.
Yet this is seen as fair and carries no stigma. Now just imagine Anil Kumble, before the Kolkata Test, publically asking Sourav Ganguly to ensure that the Eden pitch for the second test against NZ to be one where the ball turns square from day one.
There would be calls for ICC to intervene and in the view of cricket writers and fans outside India, India would be seen as virtually resorting to cheating to win the Test.
Why the difference in attitude? England will be touring India soon, and when they do, expect pitches to be on top of the agenda. When England were in India for the World T20 earlier in the year, all their commentators ever spoke about was how the pitches were bad, because they helped the spinners. This was in a T20 competition where the pitches are generally designed to help the batsmen. Just imagine what they will be like in a Test series.
The rank green top given to India in the second Test during India's last tour to England, they conveniently forgot. It’s another thing that the English seam attack failed to make the most of the pitch tailor-made to help them, and India actually won that Test.
It was the same story in the fourth and the fifth Test, where the English side did make the most of the pitches designed to help the home team and won. The English commentators barely complained then, but the idea of pitches helping the home team- India, during the World T20, was beyond comprehension to them.
When England tour India later in the year, it would make for a great drinking game to take a shot whenever an English commentator or writer uses the words ‘bad pitch’
Hypocrisy about the state of pitches
It's quite astonishing that the hypocrisy of crying foul over pitches designed to aid Indian spinners, while being completely okay with pitches helping all other host nations besides India, is lost on these eminent journalists and commentators, some of whom are legends of the game!
It's almost as if every side in the world is allowed to use pitches designed to give them an advantage in the contest, but not India. When India does it, it borders on cheating.
The worst of all is that hypocrisy and extremely unfair criticism has started to get to the Indian setup. Why was Anil Kumble having to defend the pitch at Kanpur, instead of saying- Yes, we have asked for the pitch to turn square from ball one, and New Zealand are just going to have to deal with that!
It's almost as if all the criticism has made India afraid of using the pitches in India to their advantage, which is something that every host nation in the world does.
Before the first Test at Kanpur, Harbhajan Singh was asking for 'normal' pitches, Kumble was trying to convince people that the Indian side had not asked the curator to produce a wicket that would give extra help to the spinners. Why?
Can you imagine an Australian side ahead of a test match at Perth asking for the pitch to not have extra bounce and be slow, so as to provide a more even contest! Why are India so afraid to push home their advantage?
India need to ignore the unwarranted criticism that was directed at them, following and during the Freedom Series against SA. When India travel abroad the pitches will be what they have always been- fast bouncy and green. No host will give up the chance to play on pitches were the Indian visiting side has a disadvantage.
Why must then India be asked to refrain from using the pitches at home to its advantage? Home advantage is for everyone, and India must not be afraid of using it. The critics will just have to learn to deal with it.