Eden Gardens Pitch a Sign of Changing Times in India?

When teams tour India, they expect dry, turning pitches, and a brand of cricket completely unique to that part of the world. In the first test against Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens though, the pitch was more reminiscent of the green tops found at Lords or The Oval.

Though the overcast conditions certainly helped, the pitch looked like it would support swing bowlers from the outset, with Sunil Gavaskar quipping that ‘there is very little difference between the outfield and the pitch’.

The result was an historic test match, in which no Indian spinner took a wicket. This was the first time in history that a test match played in India saw no wickets from a home spinner. So inoffensive were they on this pitch, Ashwin and Jadeja bowled just ten overs between them over the course of the entire match.

Typical pitches in India

One needs only to remember the most recent Test Series played in India to see the impact which spinners are used to having there. In the four test Border-Gavaskar series, in which Australia toured India, the top four wicket takers were all spinners.

Jadeja and Ashwin led all-comers with 25 and 21 respectively, and were followed by Australia’s Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon, who had 19 apiece. Yadav was the standout fast bowler with 17 wickets, but aside from him no other bowler made it into double figures.

Overall, spinners accounted for an incredible 90 out of 134 total wickets. Clearly, that series was made for spinners, and was reminiscent of a sub-continent which typically produces dry, hard, spinning wickets.

Why was this one green?

So just why was this pitch so far removed from what we’ve come to expect in India? If skipper Virat Kohli’s comments are anything to go by, the seaming pitches enable his team to familiarise themselves with the moving ball, something which they will be faced with when they tour South Africa immediately after this series.

As Kohli said, ‘we get only two days before we fly to South Africa after this series gets over’, something which demands they adapt to South African conditions during this series.

The pitch at Nagpur, where the second test will be played, is expected to assist seam bowlers again, though not to the extent it did at Eden Gardens.

Some would argue Sri Lanka have the right to feel aggrieved at pitches prepared so clearly to suit the needs of the home team. Against a team with two spinners who boast top five places in the ICC Test Bowler Rankings, however, the visitors are probably favoured by the seaming pitches more than they would be on turning ones.

What does it mean for punters?

These unusual Indian pitches have significant ramifications for punters, predominantly with regards to the wicket takers. Ordinarily, bets on Indian spinners to take the most wickets in an innings, to snare 5-for’s, or anything along those lines are relatively safe bets. Not so in this series.

If looking at player markets, punters would be much better served searching for value amongst the pace bowlers getting wickets. Batsmen who are ordinarily susceptible to turning wickets may also have low predicted totals, but given the nature of these pitches there may be some value in betting on these type of batsman building decent scores.

What to expect in the future

Whether pitches such as those seen so far in this series become the norm in India will not be seen until late next year, with India touring South Africa from December through to February, and then England in the English summer.

It would, however, be reasonable to assume that transmission will resume as normal when India next plays a test series at home. There is a reason pitches tend to suit spinners in India, and it is predominantly related to the hot, arid conditions to which the region is subjected.

As well as that, and indeed because of it, Indian spinners are the best in the world. Like it or not, all countries produce pitches favourable to their own lineups, and India is no exception, producing wickets which their talented spinners will be able to exploit.

This series differs purely because of the short turnaround before the South Africa series. India have a need to ply their trade on some seaming wickets, and that’s what has been produced.

When test cricket returns to India in late 2018, expect the hard, dry pitches we’ve come to expect to make a comeback.

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