India should put the anomaly behind and resume normal service in the fourth test

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Judging from the coverage in the Indian media or online supporters, one would think the home team is on the brink of disaster. After losing the third Border Gavaskar Trophy match in Indore, criticism has been raised: that the percussion is broken, that nobody can play spin anymore, that the papers of the lower order are over the cracks, that India’s spinners are no good after they failed at bowling from Australia for 70, and above all that the preparation of the turning places was a disaster, a tiger pit that India dug and then fell in on itself.

That’s an extensive list of diagnoses for a team that leads the series 2-1 and has lost a total of three home tests in the past decade. A team that came back after the first two of those losses to win both series and will most likely win the current one as well. There is dismay at how India could fare in the fourth Test in Ahmedabad, and rants about the dangers of gunfights – that is, surfaces where hitting is so difficult that luck outweighs skill. But the weight of statistical probability says home field advantage is unfounded given the scales so tipped by home field field advantage.

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The only thing that could hinder India would be if they got on each other’s nerves in preparation. After the Indore defeat, Rohit Sharma lamented all the attention on surfaces. “Every time we play in India, we only focus on the pitch. Why don’t people ask me about Nathan Lyon how well he bowled, how well [Cheteshwar] Pujara batted in the second innings, how well did Usman Khawaja play?”

The thing is, when Indian captains and coaches have such focus on the pitches themselves, there is no point in resisting media focus. Australians at home show up on the floor and choose a team for what they’re given. Part of the Indian team’s preparation is deciding what type of surface they want to play on. Building gates is an imprecise art, but the team leaders place an order and the mower managers try to fill it. This is a different world, one where the Indian board has centrally hired curators who go from game to game in team training gear and coach Rahul Dravid spends the first day’s lunch examining the dirt strip down the middle of what is presumably his Expressing displeasure at this is the fact that seven of his players had already been sacked.

The consequence is that when an Indian team plays poorly on a surface, the surface becomes one of the faults for which they are liable. That could make a captain doubt himself. Does he demand that the fourth test be similar to the third and risk being the team with the worst breakdown once again? Does he ask for a batting field and rely on his players to prevail in a full-length battle? The Australian model of dispossessed responsibility might look appealing.

It really shouldn’t matter which option you choose. The sample size of India’s home dominance – one you can expand to show nine losses in nearly 20 years, stretching back to Australia’s last series win here in 2004 – shows they win in all types of home conditions. That can be 600 on flat tracks or 150 on minefields. Even in a shootout, home players are more likely to use extreme conditions to their advantage. It might occasionally fall the other way, but those will be the anomalies.

One thing is true, and that is that India’s historical brilliance has waned against spin. Someone like VVS Laxman on a turning track was another level. Except for specialists like Pujara, current players have little homegrown first-class cricket when they move up to the national white-ball teams. With 38 Ranji Trophy teams, domestic games are a mixed bag of quality – there’s a reason five players from this series and four recent omissions all have top-notch Triple Centurys. But there are also some rough tracks on school players in handling.

The lack of this experience is a modern reality. At the same time, it’s true that India’s players still have more experience of these conditions than anyone who visits them. They host several series a year. If Peter Handscomb can maintain advances in his technique for six years between tours, India’s players can bridge six months. In recent years, hitters have declined in number, but they have consistently outperformed their opponents on more difficult pitches. You should do the same in Ahmedabad. You should get past the anomaly and return to the mean. The probability goes all in one direction. Not that you would know from the conversation.

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