National attention seems to have shifted to the pitch where the second Test between India and South Africa will be played from Sunday. India must win to level the series and everybody is keen to know how the 22-yard strip behaves. Or, to be specific, whether it offers turn.
The pitch at Eden Gardens hasn’t, of late, had bowlers looking forward to it with great expectation. Statistics show that India have won three of the last five Tests here. But the last one came close to five years ago and since then, the only Test and most first-class games have seen an excruciating struggle for wickets even on the final day.
It’s been a pitch where the wicketkeeper usually collects the ball from below his waist once it loses shine. True, a Morne Morkel hasn’t bowled here but those who have, found it hard to extract bounce despite bending their backs. The ball has swung a bit in the morning, but afterwards, there has been no noticeable movement off the surface.
Spinners, who are expected to play a big role if India are to win and retain their No. 1 Test ranking, too have had a tough time. The ball has turned Day II onwards but the slowness of the surface have helped batsmen recover after being beaten in the air and made sure that they could readjust, often playing on the back foot. Zip off the pitch has been conspicuous by its absence.
Veteran curator Prabir Mukherjee promised a “sporting” pitch. He said it would be an “even and firm surface which will last five days”. Till Wednesday, the pitch was watered regularly and the heavy roller used which means it would be flat and the upper crust is unlikely to loosen.
The amount of water reduced and lighter rollers came into play from Thursday, which indicates that a late effort to provide turn has started although chances of seeing puffs of dust or the ball spinning alarmingly are minimal. In Ranji Trophy parlance, such a track would be called one of first-innings lead rather than where an outright result is likely.
The official stand of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) is it has not received any instruction. “We have not heard from the Board or from the team management about laying a pitch that would offer turn. Neither do we intend to think on those lines,” CAB president Jagmohan Dalmiya told HT.
Apparently, the CAB is not willing to risk preparing a rank turner and draw the ire of the International Cricket Council because the Eden Gardens is scheduled to host World Cup matches next year.
Beyond this, there is an anecdote. In 2004, when Dalmiya was the Board president, Nagpur had laid out a pitch where conditions blatantly favoured the visitors. Now, with Manohar heading the Board, Dalmiya hasn’t gone out of his way to prepare a pitch that would help India in a key match.
But that’s another story. About the one that starts on Sunday, the news from Eden is not great for India.