There is more to being a curator than preparing the pitch. Ask Radhey Shyam Sharma, who has spent a lifetime in cricket stadia. Best known as the man who prepared the pitch where Anil Kumble snared a perfect 10, the 71-year-old has lived and breathed cricket for five decades.
“After playing for the Delhi Gymkhana for over 30 years, I took over the Delhi team as the coach of the under-17 team in 1986. The team emerged triumphant. Under my tutelage, we won the national championships in 2002 again,” he recalls with a smile.
Sharma says he took up pitch curating as a hobby, inspired by a statement that West Indies cricket great Frank Worrell made. “Sir Frank once said that if fast bowlers Wesley Hall or Charlie Griffith were born in India, playing on Indian pitches, they would have grown up to become spin bowlers. I wanted to prove him wrong.”
Sharma says his dream is unfulfilled yet. Indian pitches remain notoriously low and slow. But he is proud of a few good assignments. “Every time somebody talks about Kumble’s 10/10, I feel proud. An ordinary groundsman would have just followed the instructions from the home captain. Being a coach helped me gauge where he would pitch his deliveries. All those 10 wickets are also mine,” he says.
Another assignment that Sharma recalls fondly was one that came at very short notice—the friendship ODI at Ferozeshah Kotla in April 2005 where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf watched India play Pakistan. “I got just three days to get the ground ready. In that time, we rolled the wicket as many times we could. Thankfully, it lasted the entire 100 overs and when none of the umpires or the match referee complained about the surface, I was relieved,” he recalls.
Sharma has a explanation of the debacle of the Indian cricket team in South Africa. “Our batsmen are afraid of playing on bouncy wickets. With the advent of turf, Delhi’s batsmen do not play as often on matting wickets. Similarly, the number of pitches with red soil in Mumbai is on the decline. So, the moment they get bouncy wickets abroad, they struggle.”
The ideal wicket in India, according to Sharma should not be completely dry. “With the weather being primarily hot through the year, some moisture should be left below the surface to assist bowlers,” is his opinion.