Indian legend Ravi Shastri has blasted claims of 'cheating' ahead of the first Test against Australia and said the Nagpur pitch is being prepared fairly for both teams. On Tuesday, Pat Cummins and the players had their first look at the Nagpur pitch and were greeted with a dry surface that still had plenty of green on it.
Nagpur has been a spinner's paradise in recent years and Australia has been tossing up whether to play two specialist spinners. And a close-up of the pitch showed some loose cracks already.
'TIME IS RIGHT': Cricket world reacts to Aaron Finch announcement
However, the drama started when CricBuzz reporter Bharat Sundaresan pointed out that the pitch curators were selectively watering the middle of the pitch, but leaving the end near the left-hander's leg stump dry. A number of officials in Indian uniforms - including head coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma, at times - watched on as staff selectively watered and mowed targeted areas of the pitch.
India appear to be trying to capitalise on Australia's left-hander heavy batting line-up, paving the way for right-hander Peter Handscomb's potential recall to bat at No.6. This sparked claims of 'cheating' from the Australian cricket fanbase.
However, Indian great Shastri took aim at the claims and blasted anyone suggesting the curators were doing anything but preparing a proper Test wicket. "This is bulls**t," Shastri said on SEN Radio.
“It always happens, you get 15mm grass, 18mm grass or 12mm grass in different places around the ground … at the end of this first Test, I’m sure there’ll be someone who scores a hundred.
“If someone can get a hundred or 80-plus on that pitch, they’ve played well and he will go and say, ‘What’s wrong with the pitch? You stay there, you apply yourself, your shot selection is good, you get runs’. But if you go out there and think you’re going to smash every ball, good luck to you.”
Interesting treatment of the pitch in Nagpur. The groundstaff watered the entire centre of the surface & only the length areas outside the left-hander’s leg stump & then rolled only the centre, stopping short every time they got to the good length areas at both ends #IndvAus pic.twitter.com/Myr2ZblqCg
— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) February 7, 2023
Stating the obvious here but sounds rather dodgy Bharat? Have you seen a pitch with different patches deliberately done before?
— Tom Connell (@tomwconnell) February 7, 2023
If it is true that a pitch is being prepared unevenly - eg to take more spin to left handlers than right handers or behave differently at certain lengths …
How is that not doctoring / cheating? https://t.co/4D3Y10XFin
— The Spence (@adambspencer) February 8, 2023
It’s cheating is what it is… in every moral sense of the game you can’t prepare certain areas of the pitch differently. Needs to be prepared evenly. If others do it around the world it’s never as blatant as this!
— Anthony Spiteri (@anthonyspiteri) February 7, 2023
After inspecting the pitch on Tuesday, Smith was uncertain over how it would perform. However, he was confident that it would favour the spinners.
"Pretty dry, particularly one end," Smith said when asked about the pitch. "I think it will take a bit of spin, particularly the left-arm spinner taking it into our left-handers. There's a section there that's quite dry.
"Other than that, I can't really get a good gauge on it. I don’t think there will be a heap of bounce in the wicket, I think it will be quite skiddy for the seamers and maybe a bit of up-and-down movement as the game goes on. The cracks felt quite loose. I'm not entirely sure – we'll wait and see."
Pat Cummins embracing the Indian conditions
Earlier, KL Rahul claimed India could play three spinners on his first inspection of the Nagpur deck. Local media have suggested India could include all four spinners in the team for the first Test, on a wicket that famously turns.
Regardless, Australian captain Pat Cummins said the team are ignoring the controversy around the pitch and just embracing the challenge. "I think that's part of the challenge of playing away," Cummins said when asked about the pitch on Wednesday.
"Home teams want to win at home, and in Australia we're lucky we've got pace and bounce. Embracing the chaos. These series always throw up different challenges on the field or off the field, and embracing it is what makes these tours so special. It's going to be challenging, at times, but our batters relish the chance to problem solve on their feet and I think quite a few will get that chance this week."
When posed the question about the pitch was posed to his opponent, Sharma, the reporters got a similar answer.
"Just focus on cricket and not the pitch," Sharma said. "After all the 22 guys out there are all quality players."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.