When Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked onto the pitch on Sunday afternoon a little before his teammates, the public —comprising mostly of officials and the media — thronged to the centre to get a reaction. There was none. The captain tapped, knocked and rubbed the surface, marked out a portion for its peculiarity but remained wooden-faced as he walked away.
Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir followed and then Rahul Dravid, digging into an apple, scanned the pitch. Dravid shook his head and muttered, “It’s not going to be like the one last time.” Last year, the game against South Africa here had ended in three days with the wicket consuming the opposition on the third day.
Amidst the talk about the quality of wickets after the Ahmedabad stalemate, the curators are in a piquant situation. Both
JB Saxena, the UPCA representative, and Shiv Kumar, the Sports Department expert, have to avoid a repeat of last year’s fiasco, while at the same time, prevent an Ahmedabad-like dead rubber. In other words, the game should be perfect — last five days and produce a result.
As reported in Hindustan Times on Saturday, the UPCA is playing safe, using an old wicket and not the re-laid and ‘under-prepared’ one — where the match against South Africa ended in double quick time — to ensure the game lasts five days.
The officials say that Sachin Tendulkar has complimented them for preparing such a track. But they won’t hedge a bet on the outcome of the match. “Let’s see,” is the catchword on everyone’s lips.
The Lankans, who practiced in the morning, seemed a bit confused. Muralitharan looked pensive and was engrossed in an animated discussion with the staff after seeing the turf. Former player, Russel Arnold, who is now a commentator, said, “It should start taking turn from the third day.” Traditionally, the wicket here has been a batsman’s paradise, barring 2008 and 1959, when, in the words of Abbas Ali Baig, “off-spinner Jasu Patel, with his fast, off-cutter-like deliveries, bowled just short of good length, making life miserable for the Aussies”.
In fact, when India played against Sri Lanka here in 1986, three Indians got 150-plus scores, with Mohammed Azharuddin falling on 199. “During my time, it was always a good wicket to bat on,” said Azharuddin, who averages 181 here.
Whatever be the case, things will get clearer on Monday, the eve of the game.