It was supposed to last no more than three days. In the end, it lasted all five. The Ranchi pitch, which hosted the third Test of the India-Australia series, was abused, then praised, and then abused again. If this India-Australia series were made into a movie, the pitch would be the protagonist and the antagonist. But what we have realised at the end of three Test matches is that there’s no pleasing anyone when it comes to the hallowed 22 yards, at least in India.
After the Pune and Bengaluru pitches were rated “poor” and “below average” respectively, the media, the Australian in particular, was quick to scrutinise the Ranchi track before the third Test started. However, many pitch experts were forced to change their verdict as the match progressed.
Here is how the media, the experts and the cricketers themselves reacted to the pitch before, during and after the match:
Before the match
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Australia captain Steve Smith seemed gobsmacked by what he saw in the middle of the ground a day before the Ranchi Test started. “I’ve never seen a wicket that’s looked quite as dark as that one is,” Smith told the Cricket Australia website. “It looks like there’s mud sort of rolled together... It’s 22 yards and we’ve played on some difficult wickets in the first two games and we’ve played some pretty good cricket, so we’re confident that we can play with whatever this wicket does.”
The Australian published a story titled “Pat Cummins likely to play on dead Ranchi pitch”. Peter Lalor, an Australian cricket journalist, wrote in the report, “The patchy surface seems designed to confound left-handers at either end, of which the Australian top order has many. None of the visitors seemed pleased with what they saw.”
The Daily Telegraph went a gear higher, publishing a report titled, “Indian pitch doctors take their craft to a new low in Ranchi”. Australia should prepare themselves for “the dodgiest deck of the series so far”, wrote Ben Horne, adding that “pitch doctoring has now gone to another level and the reputation and integrity of Indian cricket is on the brink of complete embarrassment”.
“The match pitch looked as though it had been played on, with what appeared like footmarks already present...if early impressions of this devilish pitch come to fruition, it could be argued India has done nothing to adhere to the ICC’s demands for both teams to play in the spirit of the game,” the report said.
The same journalist had earlier reported that Ranchi curator SB Singh had prepared three different pitches for the Indian team to choose from. Singh “did nothing to cover up the level of pitch doctoring when he confirmed to Australian media yesterday that the BCCI is indeed responsible for making the final call”, Horne wrote. Singh would deny any such claims. “If I can simulate all those conditions in one square here, I should be a genius,” he told the Indian Express.
They weren’t alone.
The Indian media was a bit more reserved in its analysis and most outlets did not pass a verdict. “Since it’s the first Test at this venue, you can’t glean out patterns on pitch behaviour over the next five days,” wrote Sandip G in the Indian Express. “Looking from close quarters, the pitch was not full of cracks as feared by the Australians,” wrote G Krishnan in DNA. “Though there was grass on it, it was dry, perhaps more to bind the surface.”
There were some, though, who did appear to reach a conclusion based on what they saw.
Interesting pitch this in Ranchi,bit of red would mean bounce, the dark patches a combo of clay n moisture,will keep the pitch together pic.twitter.com/udjvxTbvOv— Deep Dasgupta (@DeepDasgupta7) March 16, 2017
Curator checking bounce of pitch. Ball barely lifting till knees, bit more if extra effort.— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) March 15, 2017
*Now taking bets for a 3-day finish. #IndvAus
The Deccan Chronicle wrote, “Going by the pictures doing the rounds on social media, the Ranchi pitch looks heavily designed to assist spinners, with dark patches across the pitch.”
And so, as we reached the morning of the Test, no one knew what to expect, with the Indian and Australian media contradicting each other.
Pictures of the Ranchi pitch have emerged from the Australian and Indian camps pic.twitter.com/mwkF7dIBYo— Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek) March 16, 2017
Former Australia leg-spinner gave his verdict as the covers were lifted, even though he was nowhere near Ranchi.
Great toss to win as this looks a horror pitch 250/75 could be a great score. Warner V Ashwin the key. My thoughts via video coming asap https://t.co/xCXXqlLcmU— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) March 16, 2017
However, as Australia batted through the day rather comfortably, reaching 299/4 at stumps, the experts who had condemned the pitch had to eat their words.
Ranchi pitch is playing way better than anyone expected. Retractions being drafted. Best first session deck of series.— Peter Lalor (@plalor) March 16, 2017
Turns out this Ranchi pitch is absolutely fine for batting on. And people say the 2005 Ashes was a great series...— Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek) March 16, 2017
Condemning a pitch before a ball has been bowled is like sentencing a person before a hearing.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) March 16, 2017
“This one has actually played a lot better than I thought it would,” said Smith after the day’s play. “The consistency of bounce has been there generally throughout the whole day. It hasn’t really spun so it’s a nice wicket to bat on and we’re going to need as many as we can get in this first innings.”
I wonder if people can be gracious enough to say 'we were wrong about the pitch and all that we said about the groundsman'. Only fair, no?— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) March 16, 2017
As we entered day two, the pitch continued to hold on. Smith and Glenn Maxwell cracked centuries to take Australia to 451, before India reached stumps at a comfortable 120/1.
Still waiting for word from the alarmists on how this is any different from the normal Indian pitch. I doubt there'll be a murmur. #IndvAus— Dileep Premachandran (@SpiceBoxofEarth) March 17, 2017
This pitch in Ranchi looks absolutely fine. What was all the pre-match fuss about?— Lawrence Booth (@the_topspin) March 17, 2017
Sure. dont mind being wrong (not entirely wrong either if u have been watching) but one snorter in 3 days and out come the jabs. cheers! 👏 https://t.co/gc5i2DhaKn— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) March 17, 2017
There were more retractions as we entered day three.
I got the pitch wrong. Gonna get new sources. Apologies to curator. Good track. India rolls out ‘patchy’ pitch https://t.co/26A1KILFnI— Peter Lalor (@plalor) March 18, 2017
But as Cheteshwar Pujara became the first Indian centurion of the series and India approached Australia’s total, some doubts started creeping in.
It is pointing to a fantastic last day but for that the pitch must start helping bowlers more. How many thought we would say that!— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) March 18, 2017
This pitch is comfortably the worst of the series so far. Turgid cricket most of the Test. Only Cummins brilliance saved today— Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek) March 18, 2017
On day four, nobody knew what to expect.
Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha entered grind mode and slowly piled on the runs for India. The hosts finally declared at 603/9 after Pujara scored a double century, Saha hit a ton and Ravindra Jadeja reached his fifty. The pitch was still flat as a highway.
But as Australia lost two wickets in the eight overs they were forced to bat before stumps to Jadeja’s spin, there were some predictions that the pitch would crumble on the final day.
This relatively benign pitch will resemble a nest of vipers when Jadeja bowls tomorrow. Will be a huge test for Australia. #INDvAUS— Dileep Premachandran (@SpiceBoxofEarth) March 19, 2017
But crumble it did not. “Nest of vipers” it never became. Australia managed to bat out a draw as the Indian bowlers toiled. And soon, the debate switched to whether this pitch was good or not.
Ranchi city & the JSCA stadium have been great hosts. 5 star hospitality & facilities. Thanks from Australian media. PS pitch was good too!— Peter Lalor (@plalor) March 20, 2017
This has been a fair pitch with a fair result. Application and skill needed to score runs and take wickets.— Alt Cricket (@AltCricket) March 20, 2017
Not every Test can have a result https://t.co/niye1A2jj1
I think any pitch which isn't dangerous for the players is fine though. Some tests should be played on stalemate pitches.— cricketingview (@cricketingview) March 20, 2017
Its like Barcelona-Madrid playing a 6-5 game (the 2nd Test) and then a 1-1 draw (this Test). Both would probably be equally tremendous.— cricketingview (@cricketingview) March 20, 2017
There were some who asked whether a track where 25 wickets fell in five days could be considered a good pitch.
1226 runs and 23 wickets in 420 overs. If any pitch is going to destroy Test cricket it is ones like this.— Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek) March 20, 2017
This has been the worst pitch of the series. ICC will rate this good though. #BatsmansGame— Fake Mitch Johnson (@NotMitchJohnson) March 20, 2017
The verdict was again divided, with all eyes now on what the ICC rates it.
As usual, waiting with bated breath to see what this pitch is rated.— Snehal Pradhan (@SnehalPradhan) March 20, 2017
Some decided to dismiss whatever the ICC says.
Not to take anything away from Marsh & Handscomb, who have been superb, but ICC can take their pitch ratings and shove it.#INDvAUS— Vinayakk (@vinayakkm) March 20, 2017
Reputations were on the line, as well.
@Moulinparikh A pitch this lifeless is a perfectly fine one?— Anand Vasu (@anandvasu) March 20, 2017
Not saying it's a poor pitch.. not saying we will lose.. and I am not complaining.. enjoying players defensive skills... and the rivalry.— Dean Jones (@ProfDeano) March 20, 2017
Sheesh being abused by Indian fans for suggesting the pitch was good! I give up. (Was trying to say better than expected didnt have space)— Peter Lalor (@plalor) March 20, 2017
Guess sometimes players/coaches dont know how a pitch will behave either, do they?! You can cc that ⬆️⬆️ tweet! #idiot— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) March 20, 2017
India captain Virat Kohli, tossed a googly in the post-match press conference, saying that it wasn’t the pitch, but the quality of the balls used that surprised his team. “We were not disappointed with the pitch,” he said. “The pitch broke down like it does in all games and deteriorated on day two, three and four like it should.”
Kohli said that the ball’s hardness was an issue. “The ball was spinning yesterday and we could generate that pace. But in the middle part of the innings we could not generate as much pace, but we don’t want to take any credit away from their batsmen. They batted really well.”
What then to make of this pitch? Pune was “poor” because it spun too much and the match lasted less than three days. Bengaluru was “below average” because there was uneven turn and bounce, even though it produced a cracker of a Test match that went into the fourth day. Ranchi confounded everyone by holding through for five days, but the match ended in a draw after just 25 wickets fell.
Heading into Dharamsala 1-1. How will pitch be? Pre-match Ranchi that was supposed to be diabolical? Or actual Ranchi that's way more benign— Saurabh Somani (@saurabh_42) March 20, 2017
Regardless of what the ICC rates it, what the traditional and social media can learn from this series so far is that not even the cricketers can predict how a pitch will pan out. So why bother trying to read too much into it? As the tour moves to Dharamsala for the deciding Test of what has been a thrilling series currently locked at 1-1, it would augur well if the media just reported what they see without giving a verdict, ask the curator how he thinks the pitch will play out, and sit back and enjoy the cricket.