CHENNAI:Usually, it’s travelling teams who are seen complaining about the nature of surfaces. A queer turn of events resulted in the Wankhede spat, where curator Sudhir Naik apparently became the target of uncomplimentary remarks from senior members of the Indian support staff.
Before getting into the rightness of claims and counters, it’s important to note the profile of the characters in the context of the incident. An opening batsman who played three Tests in the 70s and coached Zaheer Khan, Naik has been in charge of the marquee venue in Mumbai for about a decade. Ravi Shastri and Bharathi Arun have seen enough of pitch matters at different levels to know who and how to address grievances and how valid the ground must be. If trouble takes place in spite of such experience and knowledge, something has to be wrong with the pitch or the manner of communication.
Team management instructing curators to prepare strips to ally their strengths is nothing new. Wilfully or not, most curators oblige, while the headstrong ones object, sparking inevitable fracas. Express lists out a few such instances... some that bore the desired results, some that boomeranged and some that resulted in strained relationships between the groundstaff and team management.
Daljit Singh, chairman of the BCCI’s pitches and grounds committee that has a member from each of the five zones plus secretary Anurag Thakur as convenor, refused to comment citing contractual restrictions. “Whatever happened has been seen and written about. If I have anything to say, I’ll convey it to the BCCI,” said the veteran Punjab curator, busy putting final touches to the rectangle at Mohali set to host the first India-South Africa Test from November 5.
Runs & Runs
Sources in the committee, however, felt there isn’t much to say because those who supervise pitches were under clear instructions what to roll out. “IPL wickets” has become a familiar term in domestic cricket, describing best surfaces that see both teams score 200-plus. In 50-over games, India chasing down 350 isn’t a huge surprise anymore. “For ODIs, the guideline is strips that produce runs. Curators ensure there isn’t any lateral movement off the surface, no spin, swing or anything that prevents stroke play. The pitch has to be such that ball comes nicely to the bat. Of late, this has been the practice as well as order and it was no different this time. If the team wanted something specific (read spin), the message must have reached late (as claimed by Naik in his letter to BCCI),” well placed sources told Express.
In all likelihood, this spat is more a doing of communication error and disappointment than an individual or group not doing their job properly. Barring exceptions like Nagpur 2004 (Australia Test) or Kolkata 2005 (South Africa ODI), local associations and curators in principle prepare surfaces that suit the Indian team’s explosive batting. Such belters didn’t draw adverse remarks when the 2013 India-Australia ODI series set a record for fast scoring or Rohit Sharma slammed double centuries. “One also has to understand the pressure the India coach or team director is under. If favourites in home conditions get clobbered like that (conceding 438), frustration is natural and sometimes, it finds unlikely outlets,” said a person associated with pitch preparation.
The Wankhede incident also provides an opportunity to examine changes in methods of pitch and ground maintenance. People in the know say that neglected for years, this aspect started getting prominence in 2006, shortly after Sharad Pawar became BCCI president. State associations were each provided equipment worth close to Rs 40 lakh, inputs from overseas were sought, experts conducted courses, seminars for curators became regular and this year, the pitches and grounds committee recruited one from each zone to assist the five already on board. Whether ideal results have been achieved or not, an effort is visible.
“Some sort of standardisation has taken place, in terms of putting in place rules and regulations, educating and appointing curators. ODI pitches are absolutely flat, but we’ve seen a mandatory element of grass on pitches for domestic games. Some of the places have lost individual characteristics because of this, as pitches have become homogenous to an extent. Region specific traits like bounce on a particular type of soil, spin on another aren’t as commonplace as they used to be. But you can’t overlook that something is being done. Curators have workshops, use modern equipment. An effort can be seen,” said former Mumbai captain Amol Muzumdar, who as player and commentator has seen from close changes that took place over the last few years.
At What Cost
But as far as ODI pitches are concerned, such standardisation has only led to a glut of runs. In the last five years, India has witnessed 12 totals in excess of 350, including four over 400. Nobody pointed a finger at pitch or curators because Blue bled in just one of those matches — a dead rubber after clinching the series against South Africa in 2010. Going by early indications, the BCCI isn’t keen on letting this issue linger. It appears to be the best step. Anything to the contrary might end up being an exercise in exploring perils of their own undoing.
Some sort of standardisation has taken place, in terms of putting in place rules and regulations, educating and appointing curators. ODI pitches are absolutely flat
— Amol muzumdar, former Mumbai captain