By Yajurvindra Singh
The third Test match between India and England starting on February 24 at the huge and magnificent newly constructed Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad should be a very interesting affair. The stadium is named after the Ironman of India, Sardar Patel, and the Indian team will need to imbibe the same qualities of the ‘Man of Steel’ who played an important role in the freedom movement against the British Empire.
India will not only need to play to win the series against England, but need to ensure a win to stay alive to qualify for the first World Test Championship (WTC) final in June. At one match all, the four-Test series is at a very crucial stage.
England, on the other hand, require to win the two remaining Test matches to qualify for the WTC final. The pink ball battle will require a positive and aggressive approach, as winning for both sides is the only way forward. This itself should be enough to make the match enthralling and exciting. When two teams in any sport are set to play a game with a positive state of mind, the competition that emerges is what makes it wonderful to watch.
The day/night encounter will be played with the Sanspareils Greenlands (SG) pink ball. This is a new experience for most international cricket players. The challenge that they face would also create that extra bit of interest for the millions of viewers watching the match. The pink ball has a coat of lacquer similar to the white ball, so the new ball swings a fair amount. Both India and England have world class pace bowlers in their midst to exploit the movement and hence batting against them will require good technique and temperament to be successful.
Furthermore, an interesting aspect of a day/night match is also the change in conditions that emerges as dusk falls and then again under the illuminated dark night sky. This makes batting even more difficult.
The newly laid pitch in Motera is expected to have a good bounce. The wicket during the domestic T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournament recently showed that it spun viciously and most teams struggled to put up a good score. The wicket has not had a first-class five-day match played on it as yet and, unlike Chennai, preparing a vicious turning surface would not be easily possible.
India have shown in the second Test match in Chennai that not only do they have better spinners to bowl on a turning track than England, but also their batsmen are more skilled to play the turning ball. The English batting struggled against spin and most of them looked terrified to be out there in the middle.
The Motera stadium, with the largest spectator capacity for a cricket venue in the world, is built to offer every modern facility for the cricketer. It is expected to be the showcase venue of Indian cricket. India, therefore, cannot afford to provide a wicket that is not of Test standard. The cricketing world will be watching the match with added interest as Motera will also be the venue for the T20 World Cup final later this year.
The interesting factors that the Test match in Ahmedabad will provide will be that both the pace bowlers and the spinners will play a part in the match. This is where India have the edge as they have a good pace and spin attack. Furthermore, with Rishabh Pant and Ravichandran Ashwin in good batting form, the only change that may come about would be Jasprit Bumrah to replace Kuldeep Yadav.
England, however, have some major issues in selecting their playing side. Their spinners have not shown the accuracy and guile required to be consistent and effective. Jack Leach, their left-arm spinner, has bowled reasonably well in patches, but his lack of experience and control of length has not made him a match-winning threat.
Dom Bess, their off spinner in the first Test match, also did not show the ability to be accurate and effective and so England have a major dilemma as to whether to play with an additional pacer instead of him. England, one feels, cannot go in with only one frontline spinner and therefore will have to sacrifice either Stuart Broad or Jimmy Anderson for Dom Bess. The problem that faces England is that Ben Stokes has not been at his best as a bowler. They need him to contribute much more for them to become an effective bowling unit.
One major issue that the Indian side will need to forget is their disastrous batting performance in the last day/night pink ball Test match in Adelaide against Australia. The 36-run total will definitely rankle in the minds of their batters. They will need to reflect on their wonderful performance at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens when they played their first ever day/night Test match against Bangladesh in November 2019.
Their three top line batsmen — Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane — scored runs in that match that was played with a SG pink ball. Their mental strength as to how they will forget the disastrous Australian debacle will play a major part in the Indian team’s performance. They will need to show resilience and positivity facing the wily English pace attack of Jimmy Anderson/Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer.
The third Test match will be a seesaw battle between India and England. India at home with over 50,000 spectators behind them at the stadium will be the firm favourites. Cricket, however, is an uncertain game and with the playing conditions being far more uncertain both by way of the wicket and the day/night affair, victory or defeat will depend on the side that plays cautiously, sensibly and most importantly fields and catches well.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)