February 21, 2011

Indian domestic cricket

Is preparing sporting tracks so difficult?

Aakash Chopra
Sudeep Tyagi in his delivery stride, Saurashtra v Uttar Pradesh, 2nd semi-final, Ranji Trophy Super League, Vadodara, 2nd day, January 6, 2008
Wrong intent is the reason behind poor pitches on a lot of occasions in Indian domestic cricket  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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"When you play in the semi-finals of a premier tournament like the Ranji Trophy, you want it to be played on a much better surface, not one that makes it a lottery. The mud was flying from where the balls were pitching," said Robin Uthappa at the end of first day of the Ranji semi-final. While one can understand Baroda's preference to play on an under-prepared track (Karnataka was a much stronger opposition), it would be impossible to not feel for the Karnataka boys, whose dreams of making it to the second consecutive final were dashed in just over five sessions of play.

But, there's a larger issue here. Karnataka lodged an official complaint which meant shifting the venue for the final in Baroda to the Moti Bagh Ground, and also, of course, preparing a slightly better pitch. I say a better pitch because it lasted five days, otherwise the track was so low and slow that it made for boring cricket. And that brings me to the perennial question that's haunting Indian cricket, especially domestic cricket. Is preparing a good pitch which has something in it for everybody so difficult?

Every season we witness at least a few matches finishing under two days. The tracks are either like the one provided for the semi-final, a rank turner, or have far too much grass left on them with moisture (if the hosts' strength lies in fast bowlers), like the match Delhi played against Orissa a couple of years ago. While both these tracks produce the much-needed result and with it the crucial five-six points, it has a damaging effect on the health of the game. These games not only inflate bowlers' figures to unimaginable enormities, but further boost their chances to stake a claim at the next level of selection. But mostly, they are not half as good as their figures suggest.

That reminds me of a match at the Karnail Singh Stadium a few years ago. There were stud marks on the good-length area on the eve of the match. The players were asked not to wear spikes while playing and, as expected, the match got over in five sessions with spinners ruling the roost. A debutant got a five-for and with that he cemented his place for the next few games and years. While everyone was aware of his abilities, the figures told a different story. The team lugged him around till he bowled straight into the keeper's gloves a few times in another first-class game and made a laughing stock of himself and the team. One under-prepared track not only made a mediocre cricketer last a few games but also blocked the way for talented youngsters from getting a look-in.

If underprepared tracks are misleading, the tracks, as good as roads, are equally flattering, as batsmen, in this case, make merry. What's worse is that it's not the nature of the track but the intent which is at fault on most occasions. The tracks for the Ranji Trophy semi-finals and finals this year got noted for the bounce and seam movement for the bowlers. The track in Delhi might not be the best surface in the country, but, if prepared properly, can assist the seamers and last a good four days. The onus is on the match referees to start pulling up the hosts for not preparing a sporting wicket which should be followed by a stern action from the BCCI. The danger of getting banned or huge financial penalty will work as a deterrent for the curator to not give in to the unreasonable demands of the team management. The chalta-hai approach has gone on for way too long and it's time to change the thinking. The rest shall follow.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by Liam on (March 2, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

As a few dismayed idnefrs know, I might have been the only Indian who was sulking on the last day of that Kolkata Test in 2001Add me, for one! I even cried when they lost the 1996 finals :). But, now I seem to have lost such an irrational obsession.and, at least your idnefrs were dismayed. I am used to getting rounded and blasted by 20-odd idnefrs a 1000 times for the last 10-12 years (even when Aussies keep winning; and more when Aussies lose) :).

Posted by PhilW on (October 5, 2011, 18:10 GMT)

A good pitch is one that gets a result after lunch on the last day.

Ideally it will offer good bowlers enough assistance to remove good batsmen eventually. Ideally it will have something for the seamers in the first innings and the spinners in the 4th innings.

Poor pitches will either see poor batsmen scoring large or poor bowlers running through a side - neither is good for the game.

Posted by GURIJI on (February 28, 2011, 6:06 GMT)

A TIE AGAINST ENGLAND IS NOT ONLY A WAKEUP CALL FOR INDIAN TEAM,IT ALSO A CALL FOR THE INDIAN FANS THAT NO TO EXPECT THEIR NATION TO WIN WORLDCUP...DONT THINK ANYONE AS LITE.BOWLING DEPARTMENT IS WORST IN INDIAN TEAM

Posted by Manish Mahajan on (February 25, 2011, 19:13 GMT)

This is an eternal debate and surely nothing we as cricket lovers can do about!!! We certainly don’t want bouncy pitches let that be an SA / Australia’s domain, we don’t want spinning wickets either and let that be a rest of Asia’s domain. All we want are true pitches, how difficult it is to do that??? Why can’t we have Kapil Dev be the CEO of all pitches in India and his answerability should only be to the BBCI chief? With the respect and fan following he has in cricket, he can provide us with exactly what we fans want!!! Now how tough is that???

Posted by Srini on (February 23, 2011, 16:32 GMT)

Just like BCCI entrusted coaching senior Indian team to foreign coaches, it should do the same for pitches with instructions to prepare sporting wickets. That should help bowlers and batsmen to develop their skills properly for the challenges at international level.

Posted by Anish Tulsian on (February 21, 2011, 17:14 GMT)

If India wants to consistently win series (not a match) abroad (out of subcontinent) then domestic pitches need to have assistance for both fast bowlers and batsmen. With that India will produce batsmen who could play good fast bowling and fast bowlers who could last long. Why don't BCCI get this?

Posted by Paddle_Sweep on (February 21, 2011, 16:40 GMT)

Aakash - Ask yourself as to why Rajasthan prepared a 'flat deck' for the Ranji finals? Be the change that you wish to see.

Posted by P.Satish on (February 21, 2011, 12:21 GMT)

Why not play Ranji trophy on uncovered wickets? This might totally shift the balance in favour of the bowlers but it would also produce wonderful batsmen for India.

Posted by Sajin Varghese on (February 21, 2011, 7:04 GMT)

This article shows light to the darkness of domestic cricket and its undervaluation and privy to the main agenda of Indian cricket. There are very few pitches used in domestic cricket ranging its value for international standards. While my knowledge is not sufficient to comment about good pitches for domestic cricket, I always prefer the pitches like Mysore (last Ranji Final held) to be used in domestic matches. Somehow, I came to know that pitches have prepared in some asian countries by importing the required materials from South Africa & Australia to prepare for better performance of their players in such tracks. Though the nature conditions will be absent, the behaving of the pitch may not be changed much. I am not certain how far these ideas will be successful or its necessity in Indian domestic cricket. Being a frenetic cricket lover, I am sure the implementation of these ideas supported by neutral professional curators, will reap some benefits in long term.

Posted by venkatesh on (February 21, 2011, 6:34 GMT)

Once again, right on the mark,Akash.But like the financial scams in the country, nothing will change unless there is strong and deterrent punishments handed out quickly to the culpable associations.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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