PUNE: Before any international cricket match, a rectangle at the centre of the ground assumes the significance of real estate. Not value, its nature sparks research or speculation, depending on how you look at it. The one at MCA Stadium is no different.
It’s not just because the venue will become India’s 14th Test centre when the first match of the series starts on February 23. Three cities made ‘debut’ in this respect earlier this season and two more are lined up after this one. Arousing curiosity over the surface on a plot off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway is the presence of three curators.
With the local association’s Pandurang Salgaocar, and regional supervisor Dhiraj Parsana, the chief of BCCI’s pitches and grounds committee — Daljit Singh — is also around. The host unit’s man normally prepares pitches under the supervision of the zonal head. Outside North Zone, Daljit is usually seen during crises or at the early stages of preparation.
All three expressed satisfaction over the condition of the strip and strangely, there was something to cheer for Australia in Salgaocar’s assessment. “It’s a hard surface because of the nature of soil. There’s a crack or two, but those will not widen or become loose to assist spin. The ball will turn after the third day and in general, it’ll fly,” said the former fast bowler rated highly by Sunil Gavaskar.
Parsana, the sole man in charge of the pitch when Rajkot hosted its first Test last November, agreed with the spin part of Salgaocar’s prediction and added that he too expects bounce and carry. This will be music to the ears of Steve Smith’s team in general and Mitchell Starc in particular, especially after their 0-3 capitulation on the spinning decks of Sri Lanka last year.
That’s why Daljit’s arrival is seen as a late attempt to make things ‘more Indian’. First match of the series at a venue getting Test status means it can’t be a rank turner. But maybe something can be done to make things tougher for the visiting team?
“To make things conducive for spin under the present circumstances, one has to reduce or stop watering and rolling. And also, expose it to the sun as much as possible, so that the crust becomes dry and crumbles during the course of the match,” said sources in the BCCI pitches and grounds committee. On Tuesday, the pitch was lying bare under a punishing afternoon sun.
This doesn’t mean spinners will call the shots from the first day. Staging associations don’t prefer square turners because of reputation, other than the possibility of fewer footfall in case of an early finish. Plus, the BCCI pitches and grounds committee praises curators if Test matches go to the fifth day.
“Turners aren’t encouraged after the 2015 South Africa series (when Nagpur received an ICC warning). That’s why against England almost all matches saw five days. The emphasis is on something that doesn’t cause an early finish. Maybe a bit more spin than expected, that’s all,” said sources.
Before catching up with Daljit, Anil Kumble said: “We played on different types in nine Tests at home this season and won on good batting pitches other than in Kolkata, where it assisted fast bowlers. We are ready to adapt, instead of worrying about what we play on.”