Groundsmen come clean on dirty pitches

Times Media


TELFORD VICE, Delhi

LIKE all cricketers, SA’s players know that not all pitches are created equal. But they have learnt the lesson again in a test series in India that has been stolen from them almost as much as they have lost it.

Happily, neither are all of India’s groundsmen created equal. Some of them have come clean about the dirty practices that have sullied this series.

Daljit Singh has been painted as the villain-in-chief. A groundsman of some 30 years’ experience who presides over the pitch at Mohali, he has had significant say in the series’ other surfaces in his role as chair of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) pitches and grounds committee.

Rakesh Mehrotra, of Delhi’s Karnail Singh stadium, where Railways play their home games in the Ranji Trophy, had a question for Singh – who has in the past banned grounds from hosting matches as punishment for shoddy pitches.

“If you consider yourself so principled then why you are making a track like the one for the Mohali test,” Mehrotra told the Sunday Express.

“The pitch in Mohali and the one in Nagpur are a disgrace to Indian cricket and have ruined the reputation of Indian curators as a whole.”

Nadim Memon, a former groundsman at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, tied his thoughts to Shashank Manohar’s pledge to “play with a straight bat” when he replaced Narayanaswami Srinivasan as BCCI president.

“My first reaction when I saw the pitches for the SA series was – and I sent this text to all the major curators in the country: ‘There is no chance Mr Manohar or anyone else can play with a straight bat in Mohali or Nagpur’.

“Some of them replied saying national interest should come above everything.”

Mehrotra demystified the process of tilting the balance of the contest between bat and ball heavily in the spinners’ favour.

The key part of the pitch for doing so, he said, was what umpires call the “danger area” immediately outside the batting crease.

“Just don’t water it,” Mehrotra said. “Let it dry up, and put some dead grass on it and use a light roller.

“But once the ball starts landing there the fake grass comes off and the pitch starts showing its tricks. The whole plot is based on that five-foot area on both ends of the pitch.

“The rest of the pitch you roll nicely and make it look good.”

Mehrotra knows of whence he speaks, having had his ground banned by Singh. So, how much of the above might be score-settling?

The best answer to that question is the pitch for the fourth test at the Ferozeshah Kotla.

It has turned, but not too much or too sharply. It has offered variable bounce, but not unduly.

It has allowed batsmen to play like batsmen, not like the padded up paralytics they resembled in Mohali and Nagpur.

It has lasted into the fifth day.

And, most importantly, it was prepared after India had claimed the series in Nagpur.

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