Australia’s worst fears for the third Test have been realised, with India rubber-stamping a pitch stitch-up for the ages in Ranchi.
Curator SB Singh banned Australian players from taking photographs of the wicket on Tuesday, but the latest conspiracy was as clear as rolled mud with Steve Smith’s bemused team now bracing themselves for the dodgiest deck of the series so far.
In Pune, the pitch was condemned as “poor” by the ICC and in Bangalore match referee Chris Broad reported the wicket as “below average”.
However, remarkable scenes in Ranchi on Tuesday indicated 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.
India would happily put up with another slap on the wrist from the ICC for the Ranchi pitch if they can ambush Australia with a series-defining hit and run job starting on Thursday.
The war of words has calmed, but 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.
Players are saying that this pitch will barely bounce at all, a move purposely designed to blunt Australia’s pace dynamites Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood and also limit the impact of Nathan Lyon.
This makes No.1 bowler in the world Ravi Jadeja a potential assassin on this pitch, while there are clearly defined bare patches on this wicket custom made specifically for fellow spinner Ravi Ashwin to exploit.
Singh prepared three wickets for India to choose from as reported by The Daily Telegraph last week, and he 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.
If the decision was between well done, medium and rare – India have selected a surface off the menu as raw, dry and grassless as any pitch this Australian team has ever seen.
In Australia, the concept of choosing or ordering pitches in unheard of, with local curators the sole decision-makers.
This Test could be flat out lasting three days, and winning the toss will be almost imperative.
“Officially it has to be decided by the guidelines. The state curator and the curators representing the BCCI,” said Singh, confirming India’s involvement.
Australia is trying to take India’s attempts to sabotage them in their stride, but privately they’re mystified about the trap their opponents are trying to set for them.
“You just learn and get on with it,” said Marcus Stoinis about his own mindset heading into a potential debut.
“There’s a lot going on in Indian cricket in terms of the wickets so you probably could get a bit caught up in it.
“We’ve just had general discussion about what we think. There’s a lot of knowledge in the team. A lot of guys who have experience here whether it’s IPL or Test cricket. Just a discussion about how they think it might play.
“But pretty calm.
“I can’t really tell what it’s going to do. I think obviously it’s going to spin, apparently it won’t bounce as much as some of the other wickets.”
When it comes to selection, all options must now be on the table for Australia.
If the match is going to be over in quick time, then specialist batsman Usman Khawaja and spinning all-rounder Glenn Maxwell are massively in the frame for the vacant No.6 position.
Cummins bowled strongly at training on Tuesday but on a pitch that barely bounced, expected to be a replica of the conditions out in the middle.