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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Is Indian cricket team management to be blamed for poor Pune wicket in 1st Test?

Indian cricket team’s senior management has been accused of allegedly“hijacking” preparation of MCA Stadium pitch to dry it out and create a rank turner

cricket Updated: Feb 27, 2017 17:28 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Virat Kohli-led India lost to Australia by 33 runs in the first Test in Pune.
Virat Kohli-led India lost to Australia by 33 runs in the first Test in Pune.(BCCI)

Pune’s Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) Stadium made its debut as a Test venue as Australia beat India in the first of a four-Test series. Unfortunately, the 333-run capitulation of the home team under intense pressure from Aussie spinners Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon meant the turning track has come under scanner in the first Test played on it.

Ahead of the start of the match on February 23, legendary Aussie spinner Shane Warne commented that the pitch looked like an “eighth day wicket” while former Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar seemed just surprised at the extremely dry state of the pitch.

Warne had predicted that the worse the pitch would get with wear and tear of play, the better it would become for the Australian team to compete against the home side.

Read | Harbhajan Singh slams Pune track after India’s loss against Australia

This was proved true as Australia eventually bundled the Indian batsman out for a paltry 105 in their first innings and 107 in their second with O’Keefe claiming figures of 6/35 in each innings.

MCA’s claims

In the aftermath of explaining what went wrong, the wicket was severely criticised for falling apart.

Now with a poor reputation to take away from the first Test hosted in the Pune stadium, MCA officials have spoken out that it was in fact senior members of the Indian team management who were responsible for the poor condition of the pitch and that the preparations of the wicket had been “hijacked” days before the match began to dry out the turf and weed out most of the grass.

“When the MCA refused to prepare a rank turner, a senior member of the team management took the issue to the state association curator Pandurang Salgaonkar. When he too resisted, the matter was placed before the BCCI curators (Daljit Singh and Dhiraj Parsana; senior members of the BCCI pitches committee), but even they were a tad reluctant,” an unnamed MCA member was quoted as saying by Indian Express in a report published on Monday.

“Then, the BCCI management (not the Committee of Administrators, the cricket board employees) came into the picture. The ground staff had been ordered to remove the grass completely. Things were hijacked from the local curators,” the official went on to say.

Read | India vs Australia: Five reasons why Virat Kohli & Co.’s slumped to 333-run loss

Reduced watering

According to the official, ground staff was ordered to reduce the watering of the pitch by half for four days before the start of the match in order to dry it out gradually.

They were also told to use brushes to scrub up the surface and remove any grass on it. Cricket website, in a report published on Sunday, stated that only 2mm of grass was left on the pitch.

The Pune pitch is said to naturally favour fast bowlers and requires special care from the local curators who understand the soil and the effect of the harsh Pune sun on it. Temperatures in Pune had reached 37 degrees Celsius in the days leading up to the match while the pitch was being forcefully dried out.

Read | Pune Test: Execution the main difference between India and Australia spinners

MCA’s requests fall to deaf ears

The MCA official said requests to the team management not to tamper with the natural surface fell on deaf ears.

“The Pune pitch has a mixed soil. This pitch was originally laid under the guidance of Karl Johnson from the New Zealand sporting centres of excellence. Even MS Dhoni had earlier said it is more of an English wicket. But the MCA knows how to prepare it. This pitch requires a little bit of grass and some moisture to last the distance. If you remove the grass completely, it becomes spiteful, while retaining its bounce. But these people were determined to have a completely bald surface,” the MCA official said.

Before the match, curator Pandurang Salgaonkar had predicted the Test to last five days and assist spinners only from the fourth day.

He was peeved when asked about the pitch after the Test ended on the third day and had told reporters in company to “Ask Daljit [Singh]” about the pitch.

In a report published by website CricketNext on Monday, Salgaonkar was quoted as saying that he warned BCCI about the condition of the pitch.

“I had clearly warned the BCCI against preparing a bald and dry pitch. I don’t want to take names, but I had told them that not watering the pitch and removing the grass cover could have a detrimental effect. I know deep within that I had tried my best to make them understand,” Salgaonkar was quoted as saying by News18’s CricketNext.

The report also says he was asked why he, as curator and person in-charge of preparing the wicket, did not object to the interference.

To this he replied: “Well, what can I do? The fact is that we are reduced to helpers ahead of an international match and we have to follow the instruction of the BCCI pitch committee members present to oversee the preparation. My job was to follow their instruction and I did that.”