India vs Australia: Fans wary of another two-day Test, but rank turner unlikely

IND vs AUS: The late afternoon lull hadn’t curbed the enthusiasm of at least two young boys at the web-exchange ticket counter outside Narendra Modi Stadium. They were quick to hand over the physical tickets to those who had made online bookings for the series-deciding India-Australia Test that starts on Thursday. They were also prompt to inform that Day 1 tickets – when Prime Minister Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese will be in the stands to witness the start of the fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy – were sold out.

“Modiji aane wale hain na (Modiji will come),” they say as a way of explanation. Most walking away from the counter had tickets for the second day of the Test. As they took the long walk to the main gate of the world’s biggest cricket stadium, they expressed regret about missing the opening day. For most of last week, fans have taken to social media to complain about the unavailability of opening day tickets on – BCCI’s official ticketing partner. The board has been tight-lipped, they had assured that the problem was temporary and tickets for all five days would be available soon.

The boys at the ticket counter were also giving hope to disappointed fans. “The demand is high but you might get tickets online, even for Day 1,” they said. To make a point, one of them fishes out his smartphone, logs on to the website, checks availability, flashes a smile, gives a thumbs up. He books it too. The deal is done, two Day 1 tickets are booked and the printout pushed under the semi-circle opening of the glass window. “You are lucky, I guess these were the last few tickets left,” he says. Not everyone has been that lucky.

With all three Tests in this series barely lasting ‘two days and one session’, there has been a sense of resignation among fans. “These days, games get over in about two days and if you miss the first day, what is the point of witnessing a Test?” says a fan outside the ticket counter.

Australia’s Travis Head, second right, prepares to play a shot during the third day of third cricket test match between India and Australia in Indore, India, Friday, March 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Surjeet Yadav)

Reality check

Those fears might be unfounded, if one is to believe a senior Gujarat Cricket Association official. “We are going to go for a sporting wicket for this Test. On the central square, we have both types of pitches – black and red (soils). It will soon be decided on which type of track the Test will be played,” he said. Those in the know say that after India’s plan to roll out a rank turner backfired at Indore, there has been a re-think. “When our own batsmen are not playing well against spinners, what is the point of playing on pitches that turn a lot?” said a source.

Inside the stadium, walking past carpenters, painters and welders involved in frantic activity, is the equally busy area of play. The groundstaff and decision-makers are gathered in a huddle. In the outfield, the giant lawn-mower is drawing patterns. The turf is eye-soothingly green. At the Modi stadium, the central square is slightly raised. Not a Lord’s like slope, but it has a uniform 360 degrees incline. Batsmen are expected to get value for shots as the ball is expected to run down the slope and fly over the perfectly-manicured billiards-table surface.

It’s too early to make a pitch prediction but this is certainly not a ‘sand pit’. All the four pitches that are aligned with the sightscreen have ample grass on them. Over the years, even visiting teams have figured out that the true nature of the pitch can only be understood when play starts. The 22 yards in India are known to magically transform from green to brown overnight.

However, late in the evening, before a dust storm hit the stadium and there was a slight drizzle at night, the garden sprinklers were out. Before the pitches on the central square were covered and went to sleep for the night, they were well watered. This doesn’t look like a typical dry, crumbling pitch. Finally, for the fourth Test, India might opt for a level playing field.

India’s Shubmman Gill, second left, reacts to try and catch out Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne, right, during the third day of third cricket test match between India and Australia in Indore, India, Friday, March 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Surjeet Yadav)

BCCI may challenge ‘poor’ Indore rating

The BCCI is contemplating to challenge ICC Match Referee Chris Broad’s decision to rate the Indore pitch ‘poor’. After the third Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that India lost in two days and one session, based on Broad’s report, ICC had punished the venue with three demerit points.

“We will take stock of the situation and decide,” a BCCI official said. In the ICC press statement, match referee Broad had said, “The pitch, which was very dry, did not provide a balance between bat and ball, favouring spinners from the start. The fifth ball of the match broke through the pitch surface and continued to occasionally break the surface providing little or no seam movement and there was excessive and uneven bounce throughout the match.”

Last year, the Pakistan Cricket Board had challenged the match referee’s pitch rating and got a decision in their favour. This resulted in the demerit point handed to the Rawalpindi pitch rescinded. The pitch was given a ‘below average’ rating after the first Test of the series in early December.

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