It's an aspect of the game that is most crucial when it comes to T20. The pitch can offer something to the batsmen and bowlers and still enable an entertaining contest in the Tests and one-dayers. But for the shortest version to succeed, the surface has to be flat and facilitate big shots.
Despite an afternoon start in hot and humid conditions on Sunday, Eden Gardens saw a turnout of over 70,000 that was by far the biggest across centres in this competition so far. Shah Rukh Khan was there with a galaxy of stars to spice up the occasion and the shortened boundary confirmed the desire of the organisers to have lots of fours and sixes.
But the pitch killed all those hopes early in the day. The ball raised a big puff of dust as it landed on the 22-yard strip, resulting in the dry and brittle upper layer to allow uneven bounce with vicious and unpredictable movement off the wicket. This meant that a batsman needed to guard his wicket instead of going hammer and tongs, thus contradicting the concept of T20.
Ishant Sharma's second over was an indication of things to come. At over 130 kmph, the ball that was four overs old, kept low and bounced twice before reaching the wicketkeeper, while another in the same over kicked up from a fullish length to hit Laxman on the fingers with the batsman on a forward prod.
Later, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha bowled one from wide of the crease that pitched outside leg and beat the bat outside off. The pitch was an absolute minefield.
"T20 is about big shots and we want all pitches hosting IPL matches to help batsmen. The IPL technical committee will look into the matter of the pitch at Eden," BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah told HT. There is no need to think this will lead to a solution because the gap between matches is too little to find a remedy.
Man in the middle
The man in charge of the pitch is Kalyan Mitra, a former Bengal off-spinner, who was also at the helm when Eden witnessed an Indian collapse on a rank turner in the 1996 World Cup semifinal against Lanka. Reinstated last season, he rolled out a sickeningly slow and dead wicket that drew attention during the Test against Pakistan in December.
It is learnt that Shah Rukh has grand entertainment plans on all match days at Eden although it's difficult to predict how spectators will enjoy the experience if wickets keep falling by the heap instead of what they expect - a deluge of runs.
Hyderabad IPL team skipper V.V.S. Laxman said: "It's a shocking wicket, not good for this format of the game, or any format for that matter. The crowd expects high-scoring games in T20 and they want big shots. This wicket wasn't conducive for that. This isn't what we expect at Eden Gardens."
If the quality of the pitch left a bad taste in the mouth, there was more drama at the Eden when the floodlights went out, disrupting the match for close to hour-an-hour.
The RPG-run power utility denied a failure at the distribution end. CESC's general manager (distribution) Aniruddha Basu said: "As soon as half of the Eden plunged into darkness our engineers rushed to the spot and detected a local fault. The distribution line was absolutely okay."