India vs Australia 2017

India vs Australia: Journalists, cricketers, or pundits, the Ranchi pitch confounded everyone

Is there a point reading too much into the pitch?

It was supposed to last no more than three days. In the end, it lasted all five. The Ranchi pitch, which hosted the third Test of the India-Australia series, was abused, then praised, and then abused again. If this India-Australia series were made into a movie, the pitch would be the protagonist and the antagonist. But what we have realised at the end of three Test matches is that there’s no pleasing anyone when it comes to the hallowed 22 yards, at least in India.

After the Pune and Bengaluru pitches were rated “poor” and “below average” respectively, the media, the Australian in particular, was quick to scrutinise the Ranchi track before the third Test started. However, many pitch experts were forced to change their verdict as the match progressed.

Here is how the media, the experts and the cricketers themselves reacted to the pitch before, during and after the match:

Before the match

Australia captain Steve Smith seemed gobsmacked by what he saw in the middle of the ground a day before the Ranchi Test started. “I’ve never seen a wicket that’s looked quite as dark as that one is,” Smith told the Cricket Australia website. “It looks like there’s mud sort of rolled together... It’s 22 yards and we’ve played on some difficult wickets in the first two games and we’ve played some pretty good cricket, so we’re confident that we can play with whatever this wicket does.”

The Australian published a story titled “Pat Cummins likely to play on dead Ranchi pitch”. Peter Lalor, an Australian cricket journalist, wrote in the report, “The patchy surface seems designed to confound left-handers at either end, of which the Australian top order has many. None of the visitors seemed pleased with what they saw.”

The Daily Telegraph went a gear higher, publishing a report titled, “Indian pitch doctors take their craft to a new low in Ranchi”. Australia should prepare themselves for “the dodgiest deck of the series so far”, wrote Ben Horne, adding that “pitch doctoring has now gone to another level and the reputation and integrity of Indian cricket is on the brink of complete embarrassment”.

“The match pitch looked as though it had been played on, with what appeared like footmarks already present...if early impressions of this devilish pitch come to fruition, it could be argued India has done nothing to adhere to the ICC’s demands for both teams to play in the spirit of the game,” the report said.

The same journalist had earlier reported that Ranchi curator SB Singh had prepared three different pitches for the Indian team to choose from. Singh “did nothing to cover up the level of pitch doctoring when he confirmed to Australian media yesterday that the BCCI is indeed responsible for making the final call”, Horne wrote. Singh would deny any such claims. “If I can simulate all those conditions in one square here, I should be a genius,” he told the Indian Express.

They weren’t alone.

The Indian media was a bit more reserved in its analysis and most outlets did not pass a verdict. “Since it’s the first Test at this venue, you can’t glean out patterns on pitch behaviour over the next five days,” wrote Sandip G in the Indian Express. “Looking from close quarters, the pitch was not full of cracks as feared by the Australians,” wrote G Krishnan in DNA. “Though there was grass on it, it was dry, perhaps more to bind the surface.”

There were some, though, who did appear to reach a conclusion based on what they saw.

The Deccan Chronicle wrote, “Going by the pictures doing the rounds on social media, the Ranchi pitch looks heavily designed to assist spinners, with dark patches across the pitch.”

Day 1

And so, as we reached the morning of the Test, no one knew what to expect, with the Indian and Australian media contradicting each other.

Former Australia leg-spinner gave his verdict as the covers were lifted, even though he was nowhere near Ranchi.

However, as Australia batted through the day rather comfortably, reaching 299/4 at stumps, the experts who had condemned the pitch had to eat their words.

“This one has actually played a lot better than I thought it would,” said Smith after the day’s play. “The consistency of bounce has been there generally throughout the whole day. It hasn’t really spun so it’s a nice wicket to bat on and we’re going to need as many as we can get in this first innings.”

Day 2

As we entered day two, the pitch continued to hold on. Smith and Glenn Maxwell cracked centuries to take Australia to 451, before India reached stumps at a comfortable 120/1.

Day 3

There were more retractions as we entered day three.

But as Cheteshwar Pujara became the first Indian centurion of the series and India approached Australia’s total, some doubts started creeping in.

Day 4

On day four, nobody knew what to expect.

Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha entered grind mode and slowly piled on the runs for India. The hosts finally declared at 603/9 after Pujara scored a double century, Saha hit a ton and Ravindra Jadeja reached his fifty. The pitch was still flat as a highway.

But as Australia lost two wickets in the eight overs they were forced to bat before stumps to Jadeja’s spin, there were some predictions that the pitch would crumble on the final day.

Day 5

But crumble it did not. “Nest of vipers” it never became. Australia managed to bat out a draw as the Indian bowlers toiled. And soon, the debate switched to whether this pitch was good or not.

There were some who asked whether a track where 25 wickets fell in five days could be considered a good pitch.

The verdict was again divided, with all eyes now on what the ICC rates it.

Some decided to dismiss whatever the ICC says.

Reputations were on the line, as well.

India captain Virat Kohli, tossed a googly in the post-match press conference, saying that it wasn’t the pitch, but the quality of the balls used that surprised his team. “We were not disappointed with the pitch,” he said. “The pitch broke down like it does in all games and deteriorated on day two, three and four like it should.”

Kohli said that the ball’s hardness was an issue. “The ball was spinning yesterday and we could generate that pace. But in the middle part of the innings we could not generate as much pace, but we don’t want to take any credit away from their batsmen. They batted really well.”

What then to make of this pitch? Pune was “poor” because it spun too much and the match lasted less than three days. Bengaluru was “below average” because there was uneven turn and bounce, even though it produced a cracker of a Test match that went into the fourth day. Ranchi confounded everyone by holding through for five days, but the match ended in a draw after just 25 wickets fell.

Regardless of what the ICC rates it, what the traditional and social media can learn from this series so far is that not even the cricketers can predict how a pitch will pan out. So why bother trying to read too much into it? As the tour moves to Dharamsala for the deciding Test of what has been a thrilling series currently locked at 1-1, it would augur well if the media just reported what they see without giving a verdict, ask the curator how he thinks the pitch will play out, and sit back and enjoy the cricket.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.