Tinkering with pitches to suit spinners an old habit of Team India

  • Sanjjeev K Samyal, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Oct 27, 2015 11:22 IST
India team director Ravi Shastri, right, and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni inspect the pitch during a practice session on the eve of the fourth ODI against South Africa in Chennai, on October 21, 2015. (AP Photo)

Overall, out of the seven games in the limited-overs series, including two Twenty20s, South Africa won five, India two. The hosts have been beaten fair and square. On form and paper, South Africa were more balanced and played better.

The Wankhede curator is being painted as the villain for preparing a 50-50 wicket by making a batting beauty on Sunday. The Indian management was aware their bowlers would need much more assistance from the pitch than that to overcome this South Africa team. They needed a replica of the Chennai track for the fourth ODI on Thursday, the only game out of the seven where the hosts won convincingly. It was a turning wicket where the India spinners spelt doom from ball one.

The controversy over pitch preparation is not one-off. Every time India are under pressure against a stronger opposition, the team management increases pressure on the curator. Accustomed to having it their way most of the time, it’s difficult for Dhoni and Co to accept their wish was not granted.

Playing ball

When Dhoni wanted turners for the Test series against Australia in 2012-13, all four venues played ball and Michael Clarke’s team was blanked 4-0.

Every time India need a result, the mantra is: get a turner, strangle the opposition. It’s not new for South Africa. They have got the treatment earlier too. AB de Villiers and Co will not forget the third and final Test in Kanpur, 2007-08. Down 0-1, a desperate India got the perfect, spiteful spin track at Green Park and routed South Africa inside three days to square the series.

Equally infamous is the 2004 Wankhede game against Australia where India, smarting from the loss of the series, produced an underprepared track for the final Test. The embarrassing game was over inside three days, resulting in a reprimand from the International Cricket Council.

Experts agreed South Africa were deserving winners. “India were outplayed in all departments of the game,” said former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar. India bowled poorly (Mohit and Co overdid the short stuff and proved easy meat due to their lack of pace), fielded poorly (dropped four catches) and batted poorly (Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli got out to poor shots).

A better side

Former India stalwart and chief selector, Gundappa Viswanath, agreed. “Everything showed they (South Africa) were much better in all the departments, they played with consistency. In the final game, they were merciless and killed the Indian bowlers,” said Viswanath. “In this series, whoever won the toss had the upper hand; if we had batted first and got around 310, SA would have been under pressure.”

Having been in the eye of the storm on many occasions, Eden Gardens’ long-serving chief curator Prabir Mukherjee is dead against captains influencing wicket preparations. “If the captain wants to select the pitch, then don’t play cricket. It is about a good wicket, not about catering to directions of the home captain. What about the money paid by the fans? Most captains don’t know the ABCD of pitch preparation, they are playing on different wickets all the time, only the curator understands it,” said Mukherjee.

BCCI president Shashank Manohar needs no evidence on how demanding the home teams can get. He was party to the drama when then captain Sourav Ganguly pulled out of the 2004 Test against Australia at Nagpur at the last minute, citing injury. The team management had sought a turning track, but the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) curator went to the other extreme and rolled out a green wicket, leaving Ganguly fuming.

But, Manohar, as the VCA president, stuck to his guns and was a rare administrator to back his groundsman. With the India team director abusing a senior curator, all eyes are on the BCCI president to set an example.

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