Cow Corner

Appalling Nagpur wicket damages Test cricket

Cow Corner

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Cow Corner, it will surprise nobody to learn, likes Test match cricket. Loves it, in fact. Give him Zimbabwe v Bangladesh over five days and he'll try to find a stream from Harare and hunker down for the next 450 overs.

T20 and ODI cricket is usually good fun as well, but the Test match is the thing — a contest between bat and ball, an examination of your talent and your application. And for the most part, despite the pay packets that the short form of the game has produced, the players themselves recognise that Tests are the format in which their skills will be judged and their legacies written.

For all the scaremongering, Test match cricket will be hard to kill off — but the groundsman in Nagpur is giving it a good go.

Paul Collingwood, doing a punditry turn for the host nation's coverage, described the pitch on the eve of the match as a 'dried-up riverbed' which would produce a result in three days.

Colly had it wrong — three days have passed and just 18 wickets have fallen — but he can be forgiven for misreading the wicket. What on earth is this pitch?

Cowers reserved his judgement until both sides had had a chance to use it, but the verdict is in, and it's a stinker.

A good Test match pitch is not the easiest thing to create, but its premise is simple: it should offer an even contest between bat and ball. You'd catch Cowers complaining if we had a deck like we've seen in the past in, for instance, Colombo, a ground with its own licence to print hundreds. If five days of a Test produce 20 wickets, that's not good for the game. A three-day match where the ball dominates the bat might irk the boards and grounds selling tickets for five days, but it's likely to go down a whole lot better with the fans.

At least the pitch in Nagpur is perfectly balanced: it offers nothing for the batsmen, and nothing for the bowlers. There's negligible spin or seam movement for the bowlers, and yet it's still fiendishly awkward for the batsmen because it doesn't bounce. Getting out is hard, but so is getting runs. We've seen 199 runs on day one, 218 on day two and 210 today. That might have passed for entertaining cricket 50 years ago, but the game has moved on and for the better. A run rate a dribble over two is not an inherently bad thing, but if what's keeping the scoring low is not good bowling but the inability to put it away, then who benefits?

Certainly not the spectators, who turned up and filled about a sixth of the snappily-named Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium (Jamtha) on day one. Remarkably, those crowds have picked up a touch as the Test has dragged on, but more of this fare and you could hardly blame them for staying away.

Home nations have the right to prepare pitches that suit their strengths. It's why Trent Bridge swings, the WACA in Perth bounces and the Wankhede Stadium offers spin from day one. Actually, it's more than a right — it's a healthy, natural part of the game — testing the best in a variety of conditions. Even in the context of exploiting India's supposed advantage on slow and low pitches, however, this does nobody any favours.

Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni were mightily impressive in amassing 198 runs together over the course of 507 deliveries. Joe Root and Matt Prior did a similar job for England in their innings. But if the mark of your success is that you cut out all your interesting shots, the casual fan will hardly thank you for it.

Cowers certainly wasn't going to use today to convince any doubters that Test match cricket is worth a watch.

There's still time for this pitch to produce the result this series needs; India must win to avoid a humiliating loss on home soil, while England can bat their way towards a draw on days four and five, or even find themselves needing to bowl their hosts out in the fourth innings. This series could yet end with a genuinely thrilling finale, but it will be in spite of, not because of the wicket.

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