Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

There was much hype about the spin-friendly track at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur ahead of the first Test match between India and Australia on Thursday.

Allegations from former Australian cricketers and experts came thick and fast as they complained that hosts India ‘doctored’ the pitch to make it suitable for the home side. They also sought the intervention of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to look into the matter seriously.

Meanwhile, legendary Sunil Gavaskar and several other Indian experts responded to the allegation fiercely. Gavaskar pointed out that Australia have no right to complain about the quality of Indian pitches as their own wickets have come under scrutiny. The former India captain singled out the Brisbane pitch at Gabba, which saw the Test match between Australia and South Africa in December last year finish in just two days. The former skipper also pointed out how the surface was a lot more dangerous than any Indian pitch can ever be.

Amid the mud-slinging, Team India’s skipper Rohit Sharma’s remark is worth its weight in gold.

Responding to the allegation of ‘doctored pitch’, India skipper Rohit Sharma said the focus needs to be on the match and not the pitch.

“It is important to have a plan and figure a way out to play spin well. Everyone has a different method to tackle spin. Some like to sweep, some reverse and some attack the bowler. You need to rotate strike and sometimes you need to counterattack as well to tackle the spinners,” said Rohit.

It was not a mere rhetoric by Rohit, he also executed the strategy with elan during India’s first innings.

In reply to Australia’s first innings total of 177, India rode on a brilliant half-century by Rohit (56 no, 69b, 9x4, 1x6) to score 77 for the loss of one wicket at stumps of day one.

As per his plan, Rohit didn’t go into the shell by defending the spinners too much. He played some brilliant shots to put pressure on the bowlers and that proved to be a brilliant strategy. He didn’t allow the spinners to settle down against him and in the process dictated the terms. As a result, the hosts were trailing by just 100 runs with 9 wickets in hand.

On the other hand, another opener KL Rahul (20, 71b, 1x4) went too much into his shell and it was just one good ball from Todd Murphy (1/13) to get the better of him. The rest of the Indian batters must learn their lessons from two contrasting innings by Rohit and Rahul. In a spin-friendly surface like this, attack is the best way to defend. As per several experts, the pitch will gradually help spinners more and more. It is a golden opportunity for Indian batters to play freely and stitch couple of effective partnerships to score a good first innings total and take a handsome lead against the Australians.

Notably, riding on Ravindra Jadaja (5/47) and Ashwin’s (3/42) splendid bowling performances, India bowled out Australia for a paltry 177 runs in the first innings.

Marnus Labuschagne (49), Steven Smith (37), Alex Carey (36) and Peter Handscomb (31) all got good starts, but failed to turn those scores into something substantial as a rank turner on offer was playing in their minds.