Steve Smith speaks out over strange pitch detail ahead of fourth Test

The pitch to be used in Ahmedabad for the series finale continues to be the source of great mystery.

Steve Smith and Peter Handscomb, pictured here inspecting the pitch for the fourth cricket Test against India.
Steve Smith and Peter Handscomb inspect the pitch for the fourth cricket Test against India. Image: Twitter/Getty

The Australian cricket team were greeted by a very unusual sight during their first inspection of the pitch in Ahmedabad for the fourth Test against India. Steve Smith's side arrived at Narendra Modi Stadium on Tuesday afternoon to get a look at the wicket that curators are working on for the final Test of the series, only to realise that there are actually two pitches being prepared.

A number of cricket journalists spotted the unique detail, posting photos on Twitter showing the covers on two different pitches in the centre square. Ground staff could also be seen working on both strips on Tuesday, with many left questioning the bizarre tactic.

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India coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma both had lengthy inspections of the centre wicket, as did the Aussie players including stand-in skipper Smith. "I can't remember it being the case," Smith said later on Tuesday about ever not knowing which pitch he would be playing on so close to the start of a Test. It might have been a couple of (pitches) prepared maybe a bit longer out than two days but I can't remember two days."

The pitches have come under immense scrutiny so far this series, with the strip in Indore for the third Test rated 'poor' by the ICC. None of the three matches have reached the fourth day, and the three Tests so far have produced the fourth-fewest deliveries in history for a series after three games (and the second fewest since 1900). India have made no secret of their tactic to purposely roll out spin-friendly surfaces to suit their chances of toppling Australia's fragile batting unit.

But the plan backfired in the third Test in Indore, with Nathan Lyon taking eight scalps in the second innings as Australia won by nine wickets to reduce the series to 2-1 in India's favour. Spin accounted for 26 of the 31 wickets that fell at Holkar Stadium, and all three pitches so far in the series have been dry and offered plenty of turn.

But speaking before the third Test, Sharma confirmed reports that India were thinking about requesting a green top for the fourth Test in preparation for the World Test Championship final. The match will be played at Lord's in June on a surface that will do plenty for the seam bowlers and less for the spinners.

A general view of the pitches being prepared, pictured here before the fourth Test between Australia and India.
A general view of the pitches being prepared for the fourth Test between Australia and India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Australia have already sealed their place in the final, with India requiring one more victory to secure their spot. After retaining the Border Gavaskar trophy with victory in the second Test, India's thoughts moved to the WTC final.

"There is definitely a possibility of that, we've spoken about it," Sharma said when asked about the Ahmedabad Test being played on a green pitch. "We need to get the guys ready for it (WTC final) as well.

"That thought process is definitely there. If we do what we do here and we get the result we want, we might kick off doing something different in Ahmedabad."

India likely to go with spin-friendly pitch again

That plan may be the reason behind the two pitches being prepared in tandem for the fourth Test, with one favouring spin and the other favouring pace. However Australia's win in the third Test may have altered India's thinking significantly.

A win for India would have sealed their place in the WTC final, but the loss means they won't necessarily make it unless they can come away with victory in Ahmedabad. If Australia wins the fourth Test and Sri Lanka sweep New Zealand 2-0 in their upcoming series, Sri Lanka will make the final ahead of India.

"We want to play to our strength at home and not worry what the people outside are talking about. Our strength is spin and our batting depth," Sharma said previously, hinting that the fourth Test will again be a spinner's paradise.

"People have to play well for the game to last for five days. Games are not lasting for five days even outside India."

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