India's poor performance on pacy wickets is nothing new. And International Cricket Council's (ICC) pitch consultant Andy Atkinson feels the scenario could change if the Indian wickets have more bounce in them.
While Atkinson refused to comment on the Indian team's performance, he said that it is entirely possible to have pacy wickets in India. "It could be done in Pakistan in 2004, so it can be done in India, due to similar soil conditions," he tells the Hindustan Times at the Cricket Club of India on Sunday.
"The problem, though, might be that most Indian captains are batsmen, and are not too excited by idea of balls zipping past their noses. It may be one reason why the wickets are not fast.
India captain Rahul Dravid though told me during a chat in the West Indies recently that it would suit this team to have wickets where the ball comes nicely on to the bat. It benefits both the bowlers and the batsmen."
Over 30 years of experience
The 51-year-old Englishman's interest in pitches goes back to the Rankins club in Essex, a small club where players had to look after the ground themselves.
"Being the son of a farmer, I had to mow the outfield," he reminisces. "And that was how I got interested in pitches."
In 1973, he got a job with the Essex council where he tended to football and hockey pitches as well. After brief stints at the Lord's and Edgbaston, he moved to South Africa, where he worked for eight years. Then, he joined the ICC as a pitch consultant in 2000.
When he isn't preparing a wicket, he prefers to listen to rock music and read espionage novels. "I like the Eagles, Genesis, even Coldplay, for that matter. Not punk rock. That's not for me."
Another passion is playing golf. "But I do feel guilty sometimes, when my shots take the soil off. It hurts."
Currently, he seems to have his hands full with the World Cup assignment. "I have been travelling to the West Indies extensively in the last few months, overseeing the preparations of the wickets," he says. "After this tournament (Champions Trophy), I will take about a weeklong break and then go to the West Indies to see how things are shaping up there."
It's in the family
Atkinson seems to be passing on the legacy of preparing pitches as well. Son Thomas (21) is a junior groundsman at the Essex club ground. So do pitches dominate dinner table discussion? "Not really. He gets home pretty late from work," he says. "Of course, if he asks me something and I know the answer, I do help him."
Atkinson's current stint in India came into media glare following the low-scoring wickets during the ongoing Champions Trophy. However, after using a magic spray to bind the Brabourne wicket on Friday, Atkinson doesn't believe the wickets are bad.
"These are not bad wickets," he says. "No player is in the danger of being hurt physically. Mumbai's is a slow wicket, and the idea is to prepare a wicket that can play out the full 100 overs and stay the same for both teams."
Having identified the problem with the Brabourne wicket, Atkinson has set plans to rectify it before the final. "I will be working closely with the groundsmen," he says. "Apart from preparing the wicket for the final, it will be like a workshop for them on preparing and maintaining the wickets."
The Jaipur wicket has also been criticised for its low bounce. "It is a fresh wicket," says Atkinson. "I visited Jaipur in September, and I told the curator there that he will see the best of this wicket next year. A new pitch always needs time to settle down."