Most English fans had pinned their hopes on the third Test of the ongoing series for England to snare a win. So confident were the prediction gurus that the game was touted to be the only one where England would escape with a win. A Pink Ball game, as the trend suggested from the last 15 ties since 2015, is one where pacers have dominated the most. And, the first look of the Ahmedabad track showed no difference between the outfield and the pitch. But two days before the game, the same pitch wore a rather contrasting look to most other tracks prepared for Day-Night Tests. There was no grass on the surface, which looked completely dry, making the pitch conducive for spinners. Will it be another turner?
Rohit Sharma reckoned so and India's playing XI reflected that as the hosts picked three spinners - Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar. England misread the conditions and picked only one spinner - Jack Leach with captain Joe Root being a part-time option - and three fast bowlers in James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer.
Misread, was it? Or did England trust the usual trend? In 15 Day/Night Tests played to date, pacers have averaged 24.47 in picking 354 wickets at a strike rate of 49.7. The Spinners, on the other hand, managed 115 wickets at 35.38 with a wicket every 65 deliveries. In the only Day-Night Test played in India, back in 2019 in Kolkata, pacers picked 24 wickets at 18.19 with a strike rate of 33.4. The spinners bowled only 31 overs, 25 of which were bowled by Bangladesh, to take five wickets at 20.60.
Hence, when Root won the toss, he opted to bat first. "Hopefully, we will get a big score like the first Test. Hoping the wicket will dry out as the game goes along. It is certainly harder and seems to swing more compared to the red ball," he had explained.
Less than six sessions and precisely 140.2 overs later, it was the spinners who walked out with the most wickets, taking 93 per cent of the total wickets that fell throughout the shortest Test match since 1935. India's Axar Patel and R Ashwin picked 18 wickets between themselves, with the former's 11 for 70 becoming the best bowling figures by a bowler in Day/Night Tests while Washington Sundar, who only bowled four deliveries, picked one wicket. The remaining nine were shared between Jack Leach and Root, who became the first England captain to pick a five-fer in Asia with his figure of 5 for 8.
The previous best tally by spinners in a Day/Night Test was 24 wickets during the Pakistan-Sri Lanka game in Dubai in 2017 and 22 wickets during the Pakistan-West Indies game at the same venue in 2016. It isn't among the highest tally when day Tests are taken into consideration, but the share o wickets for spinners, 93.34 per cent, is the ninth-highest percentage of wickets to fall to spin in a Test, with 97.5 being the highest which was recorded twice in Tests - England in Sri Lanka at Pallekee in 2018/19 series and the one-off between Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Chattogram in 2019 where spinners picked 39 of the total 40 wickets.
Although it was a pacer who drew first blood in both the first innings - Ishant Sharma for India and Jofra Archer for England - it was the spinners who dictated the game, leaving pacers to deliver only 192 balls off the total 842 delivered in the game, none of which were bowled in the second innings, making this Test the second of its kind where spinners bowled all the overs in the third and fourth innings of a Test - Bangladesh-West Indies tie in Dhaka in 2018 being the other instance.
Spinners' domination left many veterans to criticise the pitch but Virat Kohli described it as "bizarre" and rather berated the batting displays by the two sides while defending the Ahmedabad track.
"I know England got bundled out early, but even with our innings, we were 100 for 3, hoping to make many more than we ended up with. [There was] just a lack of application from both sides. [It was] a very good pitch to bat on - especially in the first innings - and it felt like the ball was coming on nicely with the odd-ball turning. It was just, I would say, below-par batting from both teams. Our bowlers were much more effective and that's why we got the result.
"It was bizarre that out of the 30 wickets, 21 were off straight balls. I feel that's just a lapse of concentration, indecision or too many things going in your head as a batter where you are playing for the turn, but getting beaten on the inside. I feel like batsmen need to trust their defence much more than they are presenting at the moment, and Test cricket is all about that - you are not going to get results in two days all the time - and this was a classic example of batsmen not applying themselves enough, and maybe that's why [it was] such a quick game."
Such was the dominance of the spinners that the average of 8.82 and strike rate of 21.9 in the Test are both the best-ever recorded by a variety where spinners have delivered at least 600 balls.