CHENNAI: England could be in for a surprise when they arrive at Chennai on January 27 to kick-start a challenging tour of India. With back-to-back Tests planned with just three days gap in between, early indications are that MA Chidambaram Stadium pitches will pose a green look with the new BCCI curator V Ramesh Kumar promising a sportive wicket. The first and second Tests will be held in Chennai on February 5 and 13 respectively.
Even though full-strength India and England teams will arrive in Chennai by Wednesday, they will get a first look at the pitch only on February 2 as they have to undergo a six-day quarantine. Irrespective of the format, the Chepauk pitch has come under criticism in the recent past. India versus England in 2016 was the last Test Chennai hosted. Even though the hosts went on to win the match, the flat surface came under severe criticism. During the 2019 IPL, Chennai Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni was also not happy with the slow nature of the pitch.
Hence, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) is taking extra care this time with regards to the pitches. The stadium square has four pitches and because of the red soil content, it has traditionally assisted the spinners. The turn and bounce offered at Chepauk are something players recall fondly, but there are also admissions that those characteristics have long disappeared. The last time the pitch resembled a typical Chepauk strip was back in 2013 when India took on Australia.
In all fairness for the 2016 Test, pitch preparations were hampered by a cyclone which hit the city just five days before the start of the match. One expected the pitches to be turners this time around against England, especially given the workload of Indian bowlers after a gruelling tour of Australia. But with two Tests scheduled in two weeks, live grass will be on offer.
“A Chepauk pitch with an English look is being made. I always believe there should be an equal contest between bat and ball. Pacers, spinners and batsmen should have something on the pitch and that is what cricket is all about. There will be grass cover because it needs to last five days. There will be runs for taking too,” said Ramesh, who is making his first pitch for an international match.
Ramesh's maiden stint
For the 43-year-old MBA graduate, it is a big jump. Having cleared the BCCI curator test three years ago, he is yet to make any pitches at the Ranji Trophy level. Apart from laying turf wickets at Salem, Tiruppur and Coimbatore — all equipped to host first-class fixtures — Ramesh has only assisted other curators for few of the IPL matches. The call to make pitches for the first two Tests came out of the blue even for Ramesh. “I was surprised when I got the call. I have assisted other curators for IPL, but I have never done a pitch on my own at this level. This is the first time I'm making a pitch from the scratch. I didn't expect it to happen too soon,” Ramesh said.
After concentrating on the outfield for 20 days, Ramesh has turned his eyes to the square. “It is a challenging task because we are hosting back-to-back Tests with just three days gap and it is unprecedented in India. Quite frankly, it is being hectic because preparations for both the pitches are happening simultaneously,” he added.
It has been quite a journey for Ramesh, who had represented Tamil Nadu in the 100m hurdles in open nationals athletic championships. An injury that he suffered in college days made him turn his attention to cricket, which he played at the university level. He then became a professional curator as he had to depend on others to roll out pitches at his academy – Tiruppur School of Cricket — where he trains around 80 kids apart from supporting education for 20 of them. Like many others from the region, Ramesh is an entrepreneur who runs a garment and dying factory, employing around 700.