“Give me any bullet. I’ll play with that, ”Michael Holding told the local manager. “When Kapil (Dev) took nine wickets (9/83), I don’t need to pick the ball.”
It was 1983 and Motera was hosting his very first Test – the new Kapil World Champions against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies. Vijay Patel was the local manager of the Caribbean team and went to check with Holding which ball he would prefer for India’s second round.
Now 60, Patel still remembers his conversation with the Caribbean fast pitcher. At the time, individual glory attracted Indian cricket. Sunil Gavaskar was about to pass Don Bradman’s 29 hundred tests. The Little Master came very close but came out on the 90. The story was made three tries later in Madras.
In 2021, as the ‘new’ Motera is about to make a fresh start, collective goals have taken over for the Indian team. A victory here and in India is expected to end until the inaugural final of the ICC World Testing Championship (WTC) which will be played at Lord’s in June. They must win this series against England by at least a 2-1 margin. A pink ball test under the lights is seen as England’s biggest hope in the series, which is now tied 1-1. Beyond the fuss of a great occasion in a gigantic stadium, the stakes are high.
The new Motera is a transvestite. Its size and atmosphere – even at 50% capacity, an expected turnout of over 40,000 – can make the arena a cauldron of fear and intimidation for the faint-hearted. The stadium has masked its intimidation by freely wearing different shades of orange, yellow and blue, which is easy on the eyes.
“I saw old Motera. Back then when it was under construction we were state level cricketers and the state association called us to have a discussion about the size of the limits. The ICC did not have a set guideline for the playing area at the time. The old Motera was built in stages. Since 1983, I have seen it grow brick by brick. The new Motera is the place where enormity meets modernity. It makes us proud, ”Patel, a former Gujarat Ranji head coach, told The Indian Express.
Appearances can be deceiving
The outer field is lush green and appears silky. The central wicket, even the day before the game, had a green tint. It would be interesting to see if it retains the color when the third Test starts Wednesday or makes way for a more clayey shade. The pink ball, with an extra layer of hairspray, will move sideways if it has a bit of grass to play with. The conditions would then be more English – a perfect platform for James Anderson and Co to thrive.
However, we learn that the mowers would be in action, tilting the balance a little in favor of the wringer. “The pink ball tends to sway a lot more than the normal red ball that we play with. We experienced it in the only game we played in 2019 against Bangladesh. It’s a lot harder to play with the new ball, with the pink ball, no matter what court you’re playing on, especially at night – a batting team starting their innings under the lights. Yes the spin will come into play for sure, but I don’t think the fast bowlers can be ignored, ”Indian skipper Virat Kohli said at the pre-match press conference.
Make no mistake, India has the means to play bowling to match its opponents. After cooling his heels in the second test in Chennai, Jasprit Bumrah will be back, in all likelihood at Kuldeep Yadav’s expense. Five years after making his international debut, Bumrah will play his first Test on his home patch. Ishant Sharma, about to play his 100th Test, and Mohammed Siraj are expected to be his sewing partners, while Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel or Washington Sundar are said to be the two spinners. Sundar is the dark horse if the team wants more batting depth.
The Indian stick, up to Rishabh Pant, is chosen. For England, the return of Jonny Bairstow should strengthen their stick and it is highly likely that whatever the conditions, tourists will choose a four-speed attack. If England win this test, they will return home as a successful unit, whether or not they pull off a miracle and advance to the WTC final by also winning the fourth test. The WTC equation for tourists is steeper, an unlikely 3-1 series victory.
The Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA), for whatever reason, didn’t play this test much. Their promotional campaigns were limited to a few banners and placards here and there, mostly inside the stadium complex. “The media publicized this game massively and with good reason. We have already sold over 40,000 tickets (for the first day) and we expect more, ”said Anil Patel, co-secretary of the GCA.
A pink ball test under lights, VVIPs in the smart seats and over 40,000 fans in the stands – the atmosphere would be electric enough to test England’s nerves. Kohli has not ruled out this possibility as some of his players are visiting India for the first time. The captain of India, in fact, spoke of the extra energy that “the house edge” gives.
India’s experience with the pink balloon in India’s immediate past has been bitter – 36 all in Adelaide in December. England’s latest pink ball performance doesn’t inspire confidence either – 58 all against New Zealand in Auckland in 2018. Kohli insisted that Adelaide’s batting implosion, those 45 minutes crazy, will not affect the new Motera. After all, India had dominated much of this Adelaide test.
England’s approach seemed a bit uncertain when it came to their team combination. “We’re going to take our time with the limited information we have on this ground and pink ball cricket. You know, we’re going to make sure we give ourselves as much time as possible before the game before we make a decision, ”captain Joe Root said the day before the game.
All in all, England have more leeway. Tourists have already won a test, starting with the outsiders. If India loses the third test, it will be out of the WTC’s account. Even more poignant, the debate on the Kohli-Ajinkya Rahane harbor master’s office will resurface.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from indianexpress.com