New cherry or sour grapes: Ravi Ashwin takes it out on modified ball

Another fantastic Test Match. A superb start to the series and on this occasion, whilst it was certainly a very useful toss to win for England, they capitalised on that advantage. Joe Root was the game’s outstanding batsman, Jimmy Anderson produced the match-winning spell and the Taunton Terrors created a mirror image of themselves, both taking four for 76 off 26 overs, albeit in different innings.

And the Chennai pitch, maligned in some quarters on the first two days, turned out to be better than that judgment with runs for the batsmen, a bit for the bowlers and plenty of high jinks for on days four and five to encourage a result.

What more could you want?

Well, according to Ravi Ashwin, a decent ball.

Ashwin has been critical of the Sanspareils Greenlands (SG) orb, and he is not the only one among leading Indian players. They have complained that it would get scuffed up early, losing hardness within the first 10 overs, driving SG, which has been the official supplier to first-class cricket in India since 1993, to make changes and give the handmade ball a machine-like finish.

“When I started playing Test cricket, the SG ball used to be top notch, and you could bowl with it even after the 70th or 80th over,” he told the official broadcaster during the home series against the West Indies in 2018. “The seam used to be standing up strong and straight. But it is not the same anymore. A modified new ball, with a pronounced seam, a harder core and a darker shade or red, was used for triumphant home series against South Africa and Bangladesh.

A ball from the same batch is being used in this series, although confusion erupted after reports at the start of this Test that this was a completely new model.

According to the Indian Express, the changes should have been more likely to help the Indian team, based as they were, on the feedback received from them. The prominent seam was expected to help spinners, making the ball bounce and turn more and with India on paper having a better spin attack than England and pitches expected to help the slowerbowlers, Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar and Axar Patel were itching to get the new SG in their hands.

So, was Ravi happy with the new SG nut? Not a bit of it. On day 4, despite having picked up his 28th Test five-wicket haul, helping bowl England out for 178, he expressed surprise over the condition of the seam during the match.

“I’ve never seen an SG ball tear through the seam like that,” he said. “It could well be a combination of how hard the pitch was on the first two days.

“Even in the second innings, after the 35th-40th over, the seam started to sort of peel off. It was bizarre. I haven’t seen an SG ball like that in so many years”.

No doubt he’s a magnificent bowler and stout lower order bat. Lion-hearted too, as he with withstood today’s Jofra Archer barrage with his bat and his body. But on this occasion, perhaps it was just a case of’ “be careful what you wish for”. England seem to have read the brief written by India for SG better than the Indian attack themselves.

Let’s not forget though, this was only the first Test. Another starts at the same venue on Saturday when spectators will be allowed, although in limited numbers.

Should that new shiny SG get despatched to the stands, there will, at least, be a few hardy souls to protect it from thumping into concrete. There is plenty of cricket to be played yet and both sides will be working out how to get the best from the pick of the new cherries.