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
2001: India vs Australia, Wankhede
To halt the Aussie juggernaut — 15 wins on the spin — the Indian think tank knew they needed considerable help from the surface. Skipper Sourav Ganguly ordered a rank turner in the first Test. The curator didn’t heed initially, but later bowed down to pressure from higher-ups. The groundstaff had to do extra shifts to trim off the grass, and there were reports that many of them got blisters by the time the strip was rendered bald. It still didn’t matter for the Australian pacers, as they winkled out India in just three days.
2004: India vs Australia, Nagpur
Ganguly & Co, trailing 0-1 in the four-Test series, were stunned to see a grassy surface at the old Nagpur stadium for the third Test. Almost instantly, the team management demanded the curator to shave off the grass. But the Vidarbha Cricket Association, headed by present BCCI president Shashank Manohar, didn’t relent. Ganguly sat out, citing injuries, and the Aussie pacers ran roughshod over the Indians to seal a famous series win. His chief henchman of the 2001 series, Harbhajan Singh, also sat out.
2008: India vs South Africa, Kanpur
Harassed by Dale Steyn in Ahmedabad, a deck that unusually had some juice, though not devilish by any sense, India sought the curator’s magnanimity at the Green Park. He duly reciprocated, and India wrapped up the match in three days, with spinners plucking 18 of the 32 wickets that fell, to square the series. There were rumours that stand-in skipper MS Dhoni even gifted the curator, Shiv Kumar, a cheque for `10,000. The South African management, though, lodged an official complaint with the match referee. Kanpur, though, was let off with just a warning.
2010: India vs South Africa, Eden Gardens
Needing a win to salvage the series, Dhoni pressed veteran curator Prabir Mukherjee to manufacture a rank turner. It didn’t go well with the latter, who retained the track as it is. It didn’t matter either, as Zaheer Khan made short work of the Proteas top order with reverse swing later on the first day. And after Indian batsmen made mincemeat of the South Africa attack, Harbhajan carved out an innings win in the last over of the day. Dhoni, though, was still miffed. Mukherjee, however, denied having received any such request: “Why should such a request be made? Cricket is a beautiful game and one should play on a sporting wicket. Why should teams want to play on designer pitches after practising through the year?”
2011: India vs England (ODI), Eden Gardens
India completed a routine whitewash, but Dhoni was still a disappointed man and termed the wicket ugly. “It was such a poor wicket that we were lucky to score 270- plus. I was really disappointed with the wicket,” said Dhoni, who ironically was the top-scorer of the match. Mukherjee hit back, asking how the Indian captain could bat for so long and top-score.
2012: India vs England, eden gardens
Owing to the history of bad blood between Mukherjee and Dhoni, the BCCI urged the Cricket Association of Bengal to rope in East Zone curator Ashish Bhowmick to prepare the Eden track. Dhoni, despite the humbling in Mumbai on a turner, pressed for a dust bowl and got his way. But England’s spinners overshadowed their counterparts to catalyse what turned out to be a series-winning performance, with little help from Jimmy Anderson and Alastair Cook.
2013: India vs Australia (all four Tests)
To avenge the 4-0 whitewash Down Under, the collusive curators rolled out blatant turners and India reversed the scoreline. In began with the first Test in Chennai, a strange surface in that it held firm in the middle but the edges deteriorated rapidly and Indian spinners made the ball to kink and kick to befuddle the iron-wristed and leaden-footed Australian batsmen. Between them, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin collected 53 wickets.
2015: India vs South Africa (ODI), Mumbai
Days after advocating the need for spinning tracks, and praising the Chepauk curator for offering one such strip, Dhoni’s bowlers were monstered on a placid Wankhede pitch, which he considered was too true for his bowlers. “Our fast bowlers could not get much from the pitch with their bouncers, neither the spinners were getting the turn. We know the Wankhede wicket. Nothing went right for our bowlers,” he remarked. But the issue spiralled into a controversy as team director Ravi Shastri allegedly gave curator Sudhir Naik an earful.