Axar Patel along with Ravichandran Ashwin ran through the English batting unit as India wrapped up the Third Test at Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad within 2 days. The victory also meant India going up 2-1 against England in the four-match Test series. With spinners wreaking havoc, the visitors could only manage 81 on the scoreboard after being bundled out for 112 in their first innings. India too faced a batting collapse thanks to Joe Root’s maiden fifer but with only a 49 target set by England, Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill finished the business well within the second day of the Pink ball Test.
This is the 22nd instance that a test match did not last for even two full days. Cricket lovers in Ahmedabad are very happy with the outcome that put India 2-1 ahead in the four test series, but the cricket lovers are not happy with England- the way they concede defeat. Now, the fans are expecting some fight back from English players in the fourth test, which will be played at the same venue.
England are now out of contention for a place in the final of the ICC World Test Championship. On a pitch that won’t be forgotten in a hurry and will certainly be up for debate if it needs to be rated poor, or points need to be docked, the pink ball did things that England would have never prepared themselves for. The pitch behaved in such a way that nobody could predict how the ball would move after the delivery. Nothing else can probably sum-up the massacre that took place on the brown, dusty patch here, except that Axar Patel and R Ashwin bowled at the stumps for most of the 30 overs between them. Seven of the 10 dismissals were either bowled or leg-before. England used every single resource available to them. They sought the DRS, stared at the track in dismay, took deep breaths and perhaps even prayed. Clearly, nothing worked.
From Day One, the soil near the crease was always showing signs of disintegrating, thanks to the dryness and an uneven patch next to the bowler’s landing area. However, on Day Two, groundsmen had to twice walk out on the field to even out the patch as it became increasingly loose. The stage was just about perfect for India to start with spinners from both ends.
A dart from Axar got to Zac Crawley’s stumps even before he could come in line of the ball. Bairstow looked for turn from a delivery travelling at 92 kmph, when there was none and got bowled. Root survived a clear leg-before but didn’t last long to a similar one a few deliveries later, giving Patel his 10th wicket. Ashwin polished off Stokes, Pope and Archer as they froze at the awkward bounce and length. And it was Patel again who got Foakes leg-before, the latter hoping against hope that he had edged the ball.
England fell like nine-pins for 81 and turned red even as the red-ball remained fresh pink. By the time India walked out to bat, with the target set at 49, the pitch - quite mysteriously - looked nothing like what it had appeared to be just an hour ago. India won by 10 wickets and captain Virat Kohli said, after the game, it was a ‘good pitch’ but the batsmen from both teams weren’t up to it on both days.
This second Test here at the newly refurbished stadium in Ahmedabad is now officially the shortest game since World War II. Wrapped up in just over five sessions and 140.2 overs, Thursday’s proceedings didn’t just see England suffer. India, who started the day at 99-3, in their first innings, lost their next seven wickets for just 36 runs, and for the first time it appeared that the Test wouldn’t move into Day Three. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin and Ishant Sharma were the only batsmen to get to double figures as the landmine that masqueraded as a pitch showed that it was impossible to play a proper innings on it.
Simon Hughes, the editor of the The Cricketer Magazine, said that there has been much carping about pitches as well as castigation of English batting techniques, much of it from the previous generation, over looking the fact that the India batsmen also struggled (145 all out in Ahmedabad, making the majority of those runs on the first day). What these criticisms also ignore is that, because of the Decision Review System (DRS), the stumps are effectively 37 per cent larger than they were a few years ago. This development is manageable when pitches favour the bat, but a major issue when they favour the ball, especially the spinning one. Twenty of the 30 dismissals in Ahmedabad were bowled or lbw (all to spinners.) Before the advent of Hawk-Eye and then DRS, batsmen would routinely prop forward to spinners with bat and pad close together, of ten leading with the pad. When the pad was struck and the bowler appealed, umpires would routinely conclude that the batsman “had got a good stride in” or that the ball was “going down” (missing leg stump).
Alastair Cook in his comment said that he himself asked what he would have done in the circumstances, especially facing Axar Patel. He reminds me of another left-arm spinner, Ravindra Jadeja, who dismissed me six times in the 2016 series. As a left-hander, my approach to Patel, as it was against Jadeja, would be based on playing him outside off stump, turning the ball to leg at the right moments, judicious use of the sweep and backing my defensive technique.