India’s WACA exam in Dharamsala

There’s a photograph at the WACA museum of Geoff Marsh standing next to his bat, which happens to be perfectly vertical with, at first glance, nothing to support it. Then you see that it’s stuck in a ridiculously wide crack on the pitch.

Cracks on pitches aren’t just a Perth thing. They often turn up at other Australian venues too. Remember Sydney, January 2009? Remember Mitchell Johnson hitting one crack on day two and breaking Graeme Smith’s hand, and hitting another on day five and bowling, through the gate, the very same Smith, now batting one-handed at No. 11 in a desperate attempt to save the match?

Indian pitches develop cracks too – the ones that are composed of black rather than red soil – but their effect, given the slowness of most of the surfaces, is dissimilar. Balls tend to hit them and keep low rather than rear up or jag sideways. The combination of fast pitches and cracks is almost uniquely Australian.

On Sunday, the second day of the Dharamsala Test, Josh Hazlewood hit a crack on the pitch. It didn’t keep low. It veered away from M Vijay like a legcutter, beat his outside edge, and carried through to Matthew Wade at chest height.

Through the course of the day, Wade kept collecting balls from Hazlewood and Pat Cummins at chest, shoulder and head height. A small percentage of them hit the cracks – which weren’t yet anything as wide as those on a classic WACA pitch – and the others pitched on unmarked areas of the pitch and carried through just as high. This wasn’t one or two balls taking off. It was true bounce – another Australian characteristic.

This was the fourth and deciding Test of an Australian tour to India. By dint of exacting preparations on dusty turners and superlative execution of their plans on three very different but very Indian pitches, Australia had arrived in Dharamsala with the series 1-1. They were now in an entirely different setting in many ways, but one perhaps unexpected difference was how much like home it must have…

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