Pitch report – Feroz Shah Kotla
We profile the venue for the fourth and final Test between India and Australia in Delhi, where opting to bowl first would be a ballsy – unprecedented – decision.
<b>Established:</b> 1883<br><b>Formerly known as:</b> Willingdon Pavilion<br><b>Capacity:</b> 40,000<BR><b>Floodlights:</b> Yes<br><b>Ends:</b> Stadium End, Pavilion End<BR><b>Home Team:</b> Delhi<br><b>Curator:</b> Radheshyam Sharma<br><b>Test History:</b> 31 Tests; 11 home wins, 6 away wins, 14 draws<br><b>Last 10 Tests:</b> 8 home wins, 1 away win, 1 draw<br><b>Last 10 Tosses:</b> 10 bat first; 9 wins, 1 draw
<b>Overview</b><br>This smallish ground is named after the emperor who ruled Delhi from 1351 to 1388 and has the distinction of hosting the first ever Test match in post-independent India – in 1948.
Built during the days of the British Raj by Englishmen who wanted to play cricket on the outskirts, the pavilion was inaugurated by His Excellency, The Right Honourable Earl of Willingdon on 10 February, 1933.
However, the ground is most famous for Anil Kumble's 'Perfect 10' after the Indian leg-spinner picked up all 10 wickets in an innings against Pakistan in 1999.
Several renovations have taken place in recent years and construction progressed so slowly during the latest facelift that the one-dayer between India and Pakistan in 2004-05 was nearly called off because of unfinished work.
The ground again came under the spotlight for the wrong reasons three years ago. An ODI between India and Sri Lanka in December 2009 ended when match officials decided the pitch was of "extremely variable bounce and too dangerous for further play". As a result a 12-month ban was placed on the ground after the ICC found the pitch to be "unfit" and "dangerous".
The venue was reinstated on 1 January, 2010. The first game played at the ground on its return was a World Cup clash between the West Indies and South Africa. The Proteas chased down 222 to win the game, with the pitch providing few surprises.
In the 31 Tests played here, not a single team has opted to bowl first after winning the toss.
<b>Last Time Out</b><br>The West Indies' batsmen were little match for India's attack in November 2011. Wasting a crucial victory at the toss, the tourists managed a mere 304 – which would have considerably worse were it not for Shivnarine Chanderpaul's ton. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha shared nine wickets.
India later endured some problems of their own, falling to 209 all out, more for indiscipline than any genuine threat posed by the visitors' bowling ranks. The Windies couldn't cash in on a promising lead, instead capitulating to 180 in response. India's choice to open their attack with two spinners, and bring on a third as first change, worked.
Half-centuries from Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar were soon at hand to knock off the 250-plus remnants for victory inside 11 sessions. The Windies rallied hard at the last, and would've hoped for a fifth day – when the pitch was expected to bat it is most variable.
<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br>Unsurprisingly, <b>Sachin Tendulkar's</b> tally at the Kotla is head and shoulders above the rest of India's current crop, thanks to 726 runs in 17 innings – at a 45.37 ground average some nine runs less than his career aggregate, though.
<b>Harbhajan Singh</b> will push for a recall on the back of 18 wickets in three matches, while <b>Ravichandran Ashwin</b> will remember fondly the nine West Indian scalps he clinched on debut two years ago.
Australia's last visit here, in 2008, brought <b>Michael Clarke</b> a century and <b>Mitchell Jonson</b> modest success in a rare draw. Playing without a specialist spinner then, the tourists surely opt for the alternative this week.
<b>They Said</b><br>"The wicket looks good, the bounce might be better than the usual Kotla wicket. It will not turn from the first day but as the game progresses, the spinners will get help. Light may be a factor, it may mean we start a bit late and end a little early. The last two days have been a little cloudy and misty." – India captain <b>Mahendra Singh Dhoni</b> before the start of 2011's clash against the Windies.
"The wicket wasn't doing much and it was about sticking to one line, getting the basics right and just testing the patience of the batsmen." – India spinner <b>Pragyan Ojha</b> after day one in 2011.
<b>Weather Forecast</b><br>The rain that initially marred proceedings in Mohali won't repeat in Delhi, where dry and hot conditions are expected throughout the five days. Little wind to speak of, too, and temperatures exceeding 32 degrees Celsius.
<b>Conclusion</b><br>This isn't the Kotla of old, which was riddled with variable bounce and plenty of turn. It remains, however, the country's slowest and lowest wicket – despite its ICC-imposed overhaul.
Proving triumphant at the flip of the coin, perhaps more so than anywhere else on the sub-continent – if not the world – really is crucial. Batting first, as a very one-sided history shows, is certainly the way to go. The last line of first-class matches here attest to this. Delhi and Baroda both posted 550-plus first-innings scores in November, batting just once as desired, though neither had the bowling unit to go onto win the match.
The emergence of all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has added a handy slow-bowling option, but India will contemplate playing a third specialist spinner – not for the first time this season. Harbhajan's Delhi record is solid, and Ishant Sharma was a near nonentity in Chandigarh – therein lies the swap. The decision will be made an easy one by a glance at the track on Thursday, when the dryness of the pitch will be palpable – the region hasn't seen rain in the build-up to the fixture
Australia won't make the same mistake they did in 2008, when Cameron White's hopeful leg-spin and a slew of overs from part-timers Simon Katich and Michael Clarke was as good as it got. They must play Xavier Doherty, and perhaps Nathan Lyon, too.
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