TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
A minute less than an hour-and-a-half into Thursday’s play in Nagpur, 11 men took the mickey out of test cricket.
Three of them raised the curtain on this farce by pulling a roller from the boundary towards the pitch.
They were joined in the middle by seven colleagues. Some wielded hand-brooms. Others carried paint and brushes. The No. 11, head groundsman Amar Karlekar, presided, hands clasped behind back.
Thus assembled, the men tended what they would seem to have us believe is a pitch worthy of staging the third test between India and SA.
This is a pitch that has claimed 32 wickets in two days, that after just 172 overs looks and plays like it has been through three times as many, that seems almost as soft as the surrounding outfield, a pitch that soothes India’s fear of SA’s fast bowlers and exploits SA’s fear of India’s spinners.
So why bother with the pretence of looking after the damn thing?
Whether the surface measures up to the standard required by the International Cricket Council (ICC) will be decided by Jeff Crowe, the match referee.
After the game hurtles to an end, in all likelihood on Friday – two days ahead of schedule – Crowe will complete what the ICC calls a “Pitch and Outfield Report Form” and send it off to the suits.
Among the questions he will answer is: “General comments on the pitch and its effect on the quality of play in the match (referee must complete this section in full, including relevant comments from captains and umpires).”
A pitch may be rated as poor if any of these criteria apply: “The pitch offers excessive seam movement at any stage of the match. The pitch displays excessive unevenness of bounce for any bowler at any stage of the match. The pitch offers excessive assistance to spin bowlers, especially early in the match. The pitch displays little or no seam movement or turn at any stage in the match together with no significant bounce or carry, thereby depriving the bowlers of a fair contest between bat and ball.”
How this surface will escape being done for offering “excessive assistance to spin bowlers, especially early in the match” is difficult to fathom. It has turned from the ninth over, when Hashim Amla tossed the ball to Simon Harmer.
If a pitch is labelled as poor, the ICC will say so publicly and the home board could be liable for a fine of up to US$15 000 for a first offence.
What are the chances?
Not a peep has been heard from the ICC about the first test in Mohali, where 22 wickets fell on the first two days and India claimed their fourth consecutive victory inside three days on home soil.
But the tangle of red tape this process is tied to means there is still time for Mohali’s pitch – which was better than Jamtha’s – to be damned as poor.
Even if that doesn’t happen, those responsible for the 22 yards of fear and loathing that lurks in the middle of Jamtha’s otherwise fine stadium should be brought to book.
Because test cricket needs men, not mice.