India's Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates the dismissal of an England batsman on the second day of the third Test, at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Motera, in Ahmedabad on February 25, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

The England collapse has re-ignited the debates about pink balls and underprepared wickets. The third Test in Ahmedabad, India, finished under two days. So the knives will be out for the curator. Some will point to the pink balls used for the day-night match — only the second Test in India under floodlights.

What’s with the pink ball? Ever since it debuted in day-night Tests in 2015, it’s been associated with batting collapses. The early complaint was it aided the seamers since the sheen lasts longer. Some others said it doesn’t help in the reverse swing as the ball doesn’t wear out quickly.

All those complaints evaporated when 400 plus totals were posted in the day-night Tests in Dubai. And West Indian leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo’s haul of 8/49 in Dubai nailed the lie that the pink ball suits the seamers better. That was further validated by the performance of Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel at the Narendra Modi Stadium.

If pink balls are not the problem, then the pitch is surely to blame. That blame is not without merit. The second Test in Chennai clearly exposed the English batmen’s shortcomings against spin. The Ahmedabad debacle was merely an extension of that.

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The pitch was not a rank bad turner. Some balls spun viciously, but the bounce was true. It certainly was not the minefield that allowed Indian leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani to make a dream debut, returning with a match haul of 16 wickets. That Madras (present-day Chennai) pitch in 1988 was indeed underprepared. The Motera pitch was a far cry from that.

What was apparent is the English batmen’s poor skills at negotiating quality spin. Even Indian batsmen brought up on a steady diet of high calibre spin on turning wickets struggled: a collapse from 98/3 to 145 all out is ample evidence. The 10-wicket win merely proved that India had the better spinners, and Indian batsmen are better equipped to play spin.

Bishen Singh Bedi, who was one of the finest left-arm spinners in the world, used to say that on a spinning wicket, the deadliest delivery is the one that doesn’t spin: the one that goes through straight. Because the batsmen play for the spin, which isn’t there. The result is an lbw or bowled. Axar Patel did just that and reaped the rewards.

A Test that finishes under two days will certainly come in for scrutiny. The pitch will be under the scanner of the International Cricket Conference. There might even be an investigation. But what’s undeniable is the prerogative of the hosts to prepare the wickets that suits them. There’s no level playing field here. It’s called home advantage. After all, both sides play on the same pitch.

How spin beat India

When Alistair Cook’s England won in India in 2012, there were no hue and cry. Why? Because they had better spinners. Spinners who could take advantage of the Indian conditions. Between off-spinner Graeme Swann and left-armer Monty Panesar, they took 37 wickets. And Kevin Pietersen’s brilliance gave them the totals to attack. So don’t blame the pitch. Blame the players and their lack of skill.

In England and New Zealand, you get green-tops where the ball darts around, in the air and off the seam. In the hard pitches of Australia, South Africa and the West Indies, the balls come at batsmen’s throats. Nobody squeals. They get on with the game.

Remember the bloodbath at the Sabina Park in Kingston in 1986, when the West Indians pummelled the Indians with short-pitched deliveries. The West Indian pitches may have slowed down over the years, but they still aren’t preparing spinning wickets. They produce quality spinners. That’s how you neutralise the home advantage.