Sachin Tendulkar's radical suggestion: two pitches - a greentop and a square turner - for a single match. © BCCI

Sachin Tendulkar’s radical suggestion: two pitches – a green top and a square turner – for a single match. © BCCI

As the league stages of the latest edition of the Ranji Trophy wind to a close, there hasn’t been as much focus on the pitches as there has been in the past, or indeed as there should have been this year, either. By plumping for neutral venues and thereby offsetting the possibility of teams playing on doctored home tracks to further their qualification aspirations, it is as if the mandarins that make these calls don’t bother that 20 wickets fall in a day, like it happened in Wayanad last week in the game between Maharashtra and Odisha, or that some games have barely stretched into the third day.

The obsession with pitches is a massive, if not exclusive, Indian obsession, one which annoys several members of the current Indian Test team no end. Virat Kohli, R Ashwin and Anil Kumble, notably, are often unamused, particularly when questions revolve around home-grown decks; if they feel that, despite the exploits of the Test team on good cricket tracks, they don’t get enough credit for their successes, then that isn’t without justification.

No team plans to lose, of course, but India’s desire to not keep embarrassing themselves in foreign lands, especially outside the subcontinent, took deep root at the start of the millennium, under the Sourav Ganguly-John Wright management group. Armed with some of the most glittering jewels in world cricket at that time, India went some way towards erasing the ‘tigers-at-home, lambs-abroad’ mock. But while there have been the occasional series wins in the Caribbean and New Zealand, and the odd Test win in South Africa or England or even Australia, consistent success has continued to elude India on their overseas travels.

It is against this backdrop that Sachin Tendulkar’s extraordinary suggestion last week of two vastly differing pitches for a single domestic first-class game must be weighed. To have a green top for the first innings of both teams, and a square turner for the second, with different brands of balls for the two surfaces, is a pretty revolutionary concept. Coming from anyone with stature, it would have evoked gasps and debate; the fact that Tendulkar, normally not vocal on matters of even grave import, has proposed this theory makes it even more dissection-worthy, if you like.

It’s not hard to see the rationale behind Tendulkar’s thinking. For one thing, the impact of the toss will be largely neutralised because if you choose to bowl first on a billiards table, then you end up facing the risk of batting last when the ball is turning and fizzing and spitting like a cobra. And especially given how crucial the spin of the coin can be in India, it won’t be the worst thing to take chance out of the equation, even if winning the toss doesn’t necessarily guarantee winning the match. As Alastair Cook and his team will concur after the Mohali Test.

Tendulkar’s conviction is that the green-top-square-turner combine will allow both the next-in-line batsmen and bowlers to embrace comfort when confronted with challenging conditions away from home without sacrificing India’s innate strength, which has been high-quality spin and, almost consequently, top-class batting against high-quality spin. In theory, it is extremely sound, just like Tendulkar’s defence – which never got the credit it deserved – was.

It’s not hard to see the rationale behind Tendulkar’s thinking. For one thing, the impact of the toss will be largely neutralised because if you choose to bowl first on a billiards table, then you end up facing the risk of batting last when the ball is turning and fizzing and spitting like a cobra. And especially given how crucial the spin of the coin can be in India, it won’t be the worst thing to take chance out of the equation, even if winning the toss doesn’t necessarily guarantee winning the match. As Alastair Cook and his team will concur after the Mohali Test.

Just as the toss is no guarantee to anything other than the start of the match, weather permitting, a green-top doesn’t equate to wickets for the seam bowlers. There needs to be a certain familiarity with operating in those conditions that is a must if a bowler is not to get either intimidated by unaccustomed to assistance, or carried away by the potential for wickets the conditions proffer. Like it is an art to bowl well on turning tracks, it is not easy to suddenly develop seam with control if you aren’t used to such pitches either. From an Indian perspective, instances of bowlers getting carried away at the first sight of a surface with pace and bounce by bowling too short are far from sporadic. To get them to learn how to bowl on helpful pitches, and how to imbibe the happy knack of picking up wickets, with a ball (Kookaburra) that is used in most parts of the world, is crucial to their education and progression as cricketers. Of course, the use of the SG Test ball on turners will mean traditional strength is not compromised on.

As much for the bowlers, for the batsmen too it is imperative to have a taste of what it is like to walk out and stare down the green carpet that lies in wait like an unwelcoming ghost-house with several demons in it. Oftentimes, like we have seen with several visiting batsmen on Indian tracks in the past, you are dismissed just leaving the dressing-room to walk out to bat as you ponder what kind of examination awaits you on spin-friendly tracks. Likewise, many of India’s batsmen too have lost half the battle in the mind fearing what awaits them on a grass-laden strip. It’s a fear that can be conquered if they play more regularly on such surfaces. Again, at the risk of being repetitive, sound in theory.

But what of the practicalities? How feasible is it to prepare two separate tracks for each first-class game, or even for only one game in each round of the Ranji Trophy? Do we have the wherewithal and the expertise to provide a designer green-top? Will the climate and the soil, among other things, encourage the laying out of green carpets no more than, say, six feet away from a largely undercooked brown, bare strip? And, how do you protect the already dry track for the duration of the first innings of both teams on the adjacent seamer-friendly strip?

Historically, and as supported by this year’s evidence too, curators in many centres have struggled to come up with even one good surface. How equipped are they to then provide two entirely different, made-to-order tracks next to each other? What is the guarantee that the outcome will match up to expectations, that the result will bear any similarity to what the exercise was intended to achieve? Are these insurmountable issues that can’t be resolved with any degree of success? But, most importantly, do we (read the administrators) even think this is a theory that merits any discussion, or that it is just a fanciful and highly unfeasible concept, even if it has been espoused by one of the legends of the game?

Try it on, I say, and not because Tendulkar has asked for it. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will make India a better travelling team, as must be the goal.

But maybe, also, it is asking for too much, even if it is Tendulkar doing the asking.