Given a chance I'll again prepare the same wicket: 2004 Nagpur Test curator Kishore Pradhan

Man who dished out 'green top' the last time Australia won a Test series in India has no regrets about his role, says there were no demons on surface

Published: 06th February 2023 11:25 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th February 2023 11:25 PM   |  A+A-

Groundsmen work at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium (VCA) Jamtha ahead of the first Test between India and Australia, in Nagpur, on Monday. The first match of the four-Test series begins.

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Kishore Pradhan is indifferent to the cricket fever that has gripped Nagpur. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy is commencing in the Orange City on Thursday but Pradhan, who inadvertently wrote himself to folklore, is divorced from cricket these days. Two days out from the Test, he was watching Ultimate Fighting Championship at his home in Hindustan Colony near Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport, Nagpur on Monday afternoon.

Leading a retired life for more than a decade now, the 83-year-old Pradhan used to be in the thick of things whenever the city was scheduled to host a cricket match. But that changed long ago. Pradhan had distanced himself from the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) to such an extent that he no longer knows who is the curator for the first match between India and Australia a job he had done for years before seeking voluntary retirement in 2009.

But no matter how hard he tries to stay away from the action, Pradhan knows he is going to be remembered whenever Australia plays a Test in the city. Reason? It was on the surface prepared by him that the Aussies last won a Test series in India way back in 2004-05. Knowing fully that people still curse him for laying out the bouncy and pacy wicket more suitable for the visitors, Pradhan firmly believes that his intentions were good and the hosts didn't apply themselves otherwise the result could have been different.

"No regrets," Pradhan told this daily with a lot of conviction when queried about the pitch he had laid out. To add context to things, India were already trailing 1-0 in the series after losing the first match in Bengaluru and drawing the next in Chennai. A win in the Nagpur Test would have given the visitors an unassailable 2-0 lead even before the fourth and final tie in Mumbai.

And that's what the Indian team management didn't want. But a rude shock awaited them days before the match. "Once (Sourav) Ganguly saw the pitch, he thought I prepared it on my own. He spoke to me explaining the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. He then met the then VCA president Shashank Manohar. I also told him that the surface has been prepared in consultation with the VCA chief and coach K Jayantilal. 'This is the wicket we have prepared and you have to play on it', I tried explaining to Ganguly," said Pradhan.

As it turned out, Ganguly opted out of the match with an 'injury'. So did the offie, Harbhajan Singh. "There were no demons on the pitch. It was all about applying yourself but unfortunately, our batters lost the battle in the mind even before the start of the contest."

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but the contest is still fresh in every Indian cricket fan's mind. Most of them still attribute the loss to the pitch. But that is not the case with Pradhan. "If given an opportunity, I will lay out the same wicket," he insists. And Pradhan has reasons for it. "I always wanted to prepare pacy and bouncy wickets. How else our batters will learn to play on them? These days, it's the opposite as they can now play on fast wickets but tend to struggle on spinning tracks. Mr G Kasturirangan, the then chairman of the BCCI grounds and pitches committee, praised me for the wicket," said Pradhan, a top-order batter who had played seven first-class matches for Vidarbha.

Conspiracy theory
Once India lost the match and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, a theory started floating. It revolved around the VCA chief ordering the strip to be like that to settle scores with the BCCI regime then controlled by Jagmohan Dalmiya. Even though Pradhan doesn't confirm that possibility, he affirmed that he never received any specific instructions from Mahohar. "I cannot confirm it (the conspiracy theory) but all I can say is that he (Manohar) never conveyed any specific instructions. I prepared the track and he along with Jayantilal approved it. There were times when I didn't even agree with Manohar. He used to call me 'hekad' (adamant) but my intention was to always prepare a sporting wicket."

Scarifier machine
Given the moniker he got from Manohar, Pradhan is not one who will disown actions he did in the past or regret the decisions he had taken. But there was one thing, which he admits, could have been done to balance the contest. "I could have shaved off the grass using a scarifier machine. But I didn't know how to use it at that time so I avoided it. Had I done that, the contest could have gone into the fifth day," he signed off.

With Pradhan not with the VCA anymore, the Indian team management can hope for a wicket of their liking, with scarifier apparently taking off the grass before the two captains take the field for the toss on Thursday.


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