The pitch and the sceptics

Sadly, the spectator-response to the Ahmedabad Test leaves much to be desired. Is the lack of a local player in the Indian team a factor? The promising Cheteshwar Pujara is in the squad, but then he plays for Saurashtra. Despite being a part of Gujarat, the province has a separate Ranji Trophy team. Over to S. Dinakar.

Motera's much about heat and sand-filled gusts of wind. Welcome to the quintessential sub-continental dust bowl. Playing cricket here can be hard. Particularly for visiting teams from the colder regions of the world. The Kiwis are in for a hard time under the red hot sun.

Ahmedabad is eagerly hoping for Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test hundred. Much of the interest ahead of the series opener focusses on the maestro. Will the legend keep his date with another slice of history at Motera?

The New Zealand side is expected to get mauled by India. Many predict a four-day Test. Meanwhile, former India Test cricketer Dhiraj Parsana is under pressure. The curator at the Sardar Patel Stadium came under scathing criticism for preparing one of the flattest tracks here for the India-Sri Lanka Test last season. The match produced a mountain of runs.

Ahead of that Test, ace off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan had spoken of flat tracks, prepared on the diktats of the television companies, dominating Test cricket. “They want more revenue. They want the Test to last till the last session of the final day. And the only way to ensure that is to make placid pitches that favour the batsmen. The ball does not encourage the spinners even on the final day,” the off-spinning wizard had said.

And in a manner that was bizarre, Muralitharan's words came true to the last word. Parsana, an all-rounder in his time, who could send down left-arm pace and spin, had to answer plenty of tough questions. He is, predictably, the focus of much attention ahead of the India-New Zealand Test. “The pitch will be sporting,” is his brave response.

Meanwhile, in a miracle of sorts, the hard-working staff and volunteers of the Gujarat Cricket Association had got the ground ready after it was submerged under water due to floods from the nearby Sabarmati river. “There was plenty of work to be done but the staff toiled day and night. It is very satisfying now,” says Jagat Patel, who handles the media.

Sadly, the spectator-response to the match leaves much to be desired. Is the lack of a local player in the Indian team a factor? The promising Cheteshwar Pujara is in the squad but then he plays for Saurashtra. Despite being a part of Gujarat, the province has a separate Ranji Trophy team.

As the match stretches into the fourth day, the underdogs suddenly find themselves with an opportunity to pull off a huge upset. Kiwi paceman Chris Martin sends down the spell of his life on a sub-continental track. The hunter becomes the hunted. India is 15 for five and in the press box, there are already talks of the summer of 42 in Old Blighty. India is on the brink.

Cricket, though, throws up wonderful stories and Harbhajan Singh's batting comes to the fore even as the reliable Laxman orchestrates yet another Indian comeback from the other end. Harbhajan lives a dream with a maiden hundred to walk away with the Man of the Match award for his batting.

The irony is not lost since he is struggling with the ball. The pitch, although favouring batsmen, is not a flat track either. The spinners of both sides do not quite hit the right areas. For once, Parsana cannot be entirely held responsible for a draw.

At the press conference, Harbhajan says he is personally inclined towards UDRS. The BCCI has consistently opposed this system. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a rather unique take on the contentious issue. More on that next week.