Life's a pitch for Aussies

Clayton MurzelloThere is some difference between Australia’s 4-0 whitewash of India last year and India’s 4-0 result last week. Australia completed their quartet of wins on a fair pitch at the Adelaide Oval while India got theirs courtesy a diabolic Kotla strip in New Delhi. Javed Miandad said the other day that he would have been embarrassed if he were a television commentator present at the Kotla because he would not know what to tell his viewers of a win achieved on a spiteful pitch that nearly killed Australian batsman Phil Hughes.

Over the years, Australia have not been very lucky with pitches. Their former off-spinner Ashley Mallett came up with an extraordinary story in his book on teammate Doug Walters that the pitch at the Kotla on the 1969-70 tour was a different to the one they encountered before the rest day. Apparently, Ashok Mankad, who had figured in that Test, told Mallett later that some hanky-panky took place during the rest day of the game. Mallet wrote: “There was no reason for Mankad to have invented such a story, it was also impossible for me to verify the story and no way there would be an investigation. We duly lost the Test easily, with Ajit Wadekar hitting a great 91 not out and Viswanath playing some delightful cuts and sweeps for an unconquered 44. It was unconceivable that the wicket could have played so well after the events of two days earlier.”

Uneven Playing Field: India got its victory on the diabolic Kotla strip in New Delhi

A few months later, on the disastrous 1969-70 tour of South Africa, host captain Ali Bacher went out for an early toss with Bill Lawry for the second Test in Durban. Lawry won the toss and decided to field. According to Mallett, as his captain reached the dressing room, the Kingsmead groundsmen were already at work, removing the grass. The rule book allowed the pitch to be worked on up to 30 minutes before the start of play.

But then, Lawry had given in to a request for an early toss. South Africa’s first innings score of 622 meant that they didn’t have to bat again in the Test which Australia lost by an innings and 129 runs. On the 1956 Ashes tour of England, the Australian camp felt that the pitch for the fourth Test at Manchester was doctored to suit Laker and fellow spinner Tony Lock. The surface was coated with a substance called marl. Without taking away from Laker’s 19 wickets in the Test, the Australians felt they were duped. In fact, after the Australians won the second Test at Lord’s where Keith Miller got 10 wickets, England’s captain Peter May told Australia’s batting great Neil Harvey, “that’s the last wicket you are going to get like that.” And pace terror Frank Tyson, who was recovering from injury and all set to play the third Test at Leeds, was told by his England bosses that he would not be needed for the series.

The 1972 Australians believed they were done in at the same venue when, strangely, the Leeds pitch contracted a fungus called Fusarium. The fungus rendered the pitch dodgy and left-arm spinner Derek Underwood, known for being unplayable on damp pitches, was summoned to be part of the England playing XI for the first time in the series. The Leeds Test came close on the heels of the Lord’s game where Australia had levelled the series through the swing and pace of BobMassie and Dennis Lillee. England, as expected, won at Leeds. Despite India’s heroics, the Kotla Test of 2013 will go down in history as a three-day game played on a wrestling pit of a pitch. India’s wrestling authorities could consider it as an apt venue for a championship. It may even help the sport to stay as an Olympic discipline. 

Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor

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