India v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Delhi December 27, 2009

'We never expected the pitch to behave like that'

Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene provides an eyewitness account of the pitch fiasco at the Feroz Shah Kotla during the final ODI against India

Click here to listen to the audio version

We do not consider the pitch to be dangerous or unfit because of its unpredictability. There have been many occasions when sideways movement or variable bounce poses a great challenge for the batsman to showcase the skills to handle those conditions. This also holds true in instances when the ball keeps a bit low, or once in a while, jumps up on to you. Even today, when the ball was keeping low, the most it could do was hit you on the ankle or the knee. But the ones that were taking off from the good length were really dangerous.

Batsmen have very little time to react, especially with guys bowling at 135-140 kph, and that is a concern because you could get hit seriously, and these days it is not such a great thing to sit out with a broken bone for three to four months. It is not about the odd one cutting and hitting your fingers but when the batsmen are put in such a situation [like today] it becomes dangerous. That last ball, after which the game was stopped, from [Sudeep] Tyagi, the way it took off was ridiculous! That cannot happen.

Did we foresee anything like that on the eve of the game or even today morning? Personally I had not come for practice on Saturday, as I was injured. But I have played in Delhi in the past and I was here as recently as this September, representing Wayamba in the Champions League Twenty20 where it was quite a different surface. Then it was a very dry-and-bare pitch where the ball kept low. The matches were mostly low-scoring affairs as batsmen struggled to get runs because there was hardly any pace and bounce. But it was still manageable and all teams went through similar experience.

But today's pitch was unusual because it was not the typical grassy one. Whatever grass was there, was in patches, while the rest was bare and the pitch had a hollow sound. We felt they were trying to do something different, trying to help in binding the pitch and the grass [with the top soil]. The groundsmen had informed us in the morning there was a new growth of grass, and since we do not have any knowledge in that area, we took it at face value. We thought there would be a bit of variable bounce too, but more of the tennis-ball variety, which is slow. But we never expected the pitch to behave like that.

Till the moment Dilly [Tillakaratne Dilshan] got hit, that was when we realised this was getting bad. Then Sanath [Jayasuriya] got hit couple of times on his fingers. Luckily, most of our batsmen were left-handers, so the ball was actually going away from them. If there were right-handers batting they would've probably got hit on the chest or head. Then [Muthumudalige] Pushpakumara got hit on his elbow as well. It was just ridiculous as it had taken off from a length. After that Kanda [Thilina Kandamby] faced a ball which had a funny sort of bounce. As it went over Dhoni, we felt our batsmen would not be comfortable anymore.

You've got to understand that in such a scenario it is no more a challenge. You are actually being threatened. When you are playing against a fast bowler the batsman has very short time to react. Generally he reacts to line and length. But in a situation like this you do not react. You just wait for something to happen. That is not good. You are hoping that the ball will not take off from that length, and all of a sudden you have to react so it is not a pleasant situation for the batsman.

You've got to understand that in such a scenario it is no more a challenge. You are actually being threatened. When you are playing against a fast bowler the batsman has very short time to react. Generally he reacts to line and length. But in a situation like this you do not react. You just wait for something to happen. That is not good.

As soon as Dilly returned into the dressing room they rushed him to the hospital for an X-ray, after he continued to feel uncomfortable despite applying the ice. His reaction was that it was unplayable.

When Pushpakumara got hit, Sanga [Kumar Sangakkara] had already lodged his protest to the third umpire and the match referee. Sanath was already icing his fingers. We felt it was too dangerous for our guys and then Kandamby went and told the umpires soon after the Tyagi ball. The Indian camp too, felt the same and that it was not a fair wicket to play an ODI.

We tried to see how long we could sustain it. We felt that when the pitch would dry up and the ball got softer, it might settle down. But we stopped the game in the 24th over, so things were not going to improve. It could've been worse. Usually what happens is divots are created due to the moisture in the morning and later when it gets drier then it can become much more dangerous. In the afternoon sun, with the harder ball we would've bowled in those dents and that would have become more dangerous.

Still we should not point fingers at anyone. It is a newly relaid pitch. Curators do not make a pitch purposefully - they try to do a good job, make it lively and get something out of it. The preparation was not good. Usually a freshly relaid pitch takes about good 6-12 months for it to season itself. Obviously it would be a challenge if you play on it before that period. But when you see a pitch behaving like that, you do not take too many risks. You should instead try and season the entire square firstly.

It wasn't a fair contest between bat and ball and I understand it was very hard for the packed house at Feroz Shah Kotla. We all love the game but not to extent where somebody gets injured in a nasty way. If we can prevent that we should take those right decisions at the right time.

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Madhumitha on December 30, 2009, 16:15 GMT

    The Kotla ground was facing all the criricism since Champions Trophy and Ind-Aus ODI series. Why the heck in the world would they want to have an international odi played there. Why didnt they have this match anywhere else(There is virtualy a ground in every stse in India) and give it more time to prepare. I have seen pitches not hosting matches for 2 yrs.Is it some pride for Delhi to host match every series (is it some kind of partiality ??). Even if it was , not at a timewhen the curator and support staff said it wud take 6-12 months.Dissolve BCCI and fixtures comittee along with DDCA.

  • Anupam on December 29, 2009, 21:56 GMT

    Chetan Chauhan's audacity is sickening. I am an Indian and glad that India pretty much dominated this series, but to imply that a team like Sri Lanka "chickened out" is an unacceptable insult. I hope he is forced by the powers that be in the DDCA/BCCI/ICC to issue an clear apology - but highly doubt that it'll happen. Just read that the DDCI meeting descended into a scuffle, so it looks like they are keeping to form. Wasn't this the same association Sehwag criticized heavily for nepotism for the Delhi Ranji team?

    As for the pitch, the problem wasn't simply that the bounce was too high - then you'd merely get Perth in Delhi. In fact some grassy pitches on the subcontinent would be welcome. But it was the absolute unpredictability of the bounce that made it dangerous. Abiggs has no clue what he is talking about. The batting collapse has nothing to do with it.

  • Tharindu on December 29, 2009, 8:20 GMT

    Mr. Chetan Chauhan had recently told that "Sri Lanka 'chickened out' "...I must told that, as a responsible official he should not have take this kind of matter so lightly.If something serious happened to a player, would he take the responsibility ??... So, if there was something wrong in the pitch, please be brave enough to accept it & correct the problem, rather than hiding the problem by making silly comments.

  • John on December 29, 2009, 6:40 GMT

    abiggs, you clearly did not even see a ball being bowled hence your silly comments. To give you an example - after Dilshan was struck, hawkeye showed the path of two balls that same over that pitched within centimetres of each other - the first one travelled below knee height and the other at shoulder height which nearly took Dilshan's head off. Uneven bounce of that nature makes it dangerous for the batsmen's physical well-being no matter if you are Don Bradman or Viv Richards. The match should have been stopped then and there instead of carrying on as they did.

  • Jayalath on December 29, 2009, 4:38 GMT

    Chetan Chauhan - Sri Lankan cricketers were nearly shot in pakistan when they toured a country which other nations pissed in their pants to visit, were hurled bottles and stones in a World Cup Semi Final by Indian fans who couldn't take defeat and were conspired against by Australian umpires and press through two entire tours and in spite of all that we are still in this game right amongst the best of them - so don't preach us about "chickening out" - IF it was Australia or South Africa on your precious little pitch that day Shevag and Tendulka might well be in a grave right now - so please go back and try a little hard with the pitch instead of conjuring up lame excuses.

  • Harikeshan on December 28, 2009, 18:26 GMT

    @abiggs and maarlemuski: True India had the match and the series in the bag even before this match commenced. SL were left with a bench to make a team after key players had been lost to injuries. Its quite obvious that SL did not want to risk any more players had they continued to play on a pitch that was worrisome. May be even a few spectators may have had a game should there been any more injuries. Some media even "quoted that the SL Team Chickened Out". 83/5 or 6 is not a match winning position or score. Would India have done the same if they had been a similar position batting 1st? well that's a big "IF". Lets not get carried away cos we did not get a chance to see SL beaten "again" given the current form, but lets look at Cricket being a played in the true Gentlemanly Manner, and accept the fact that this pitch was a disgrace.

  • Sajib ul on December 28, 2009, 18:06 GMT

    I really don't know if mr abiggs is supporting the kotla pitch. I agree most pitches favour the batsmen now-a-days but that's because the administrators have no choice but to make it in order to satisfy us- the spectators. there are as well pitches which are bowler friendly like the ones in dambulla, st. george's park in SA. But how can the pitch in kotla be compared with these wickets? having a sporting pitch is one thing, and having a sub-standard one is another. I completely appreciate what mahela has said here. He is not blaming anyone and that's something i like very much about the Sri Lankans. They never try to play the blame game. A player's career is more important then a mere game.

  • Siva on December 28, 2009, 17:34 GMT

    I am not sure if abiggs watched the match on TV. The pitch was erratic to put it lightly. one ball would roll while the next would bounce sharply. Dhoni had to be acrobatic to stop many low kept balls which rolled to him to stop byes. On one ball Jayasuriya was expecting a length ball to come up and was flaying but the ball was ankle height and went behind. In few occasions the bounce of good length balls and slightly overpitched balls were too quick on the batmen were literally reacting to protect themselves. The final straw was the ball that was short of length (not a short pitched ball) that bounced and flew so much, a jumping Dhoni barely got his hand to it to stop it from being a boundary. Luckily that ball was directed wide of offstump. If it was on middle stump or leg stump line, it would've certainly taken the head of the player because there was no time to react to duck or swing away or defend/hook it the way that ball took off. It was an unfit pitch!! Shame on DDCA!

  • Rohit on December 28, 2009, 16:31 GMT

    Its woeful that a substandard cricket pitch was in store for an international match. The officials responsible, instead of taking the blame, are ridiculously blaming others for the fiasco and the visiting captain for 'chickening out' - a malaise borne out of unprofessionalism and skewed thinking. BCCI should fix individual accountability and responsibility instead of a collective one to make sure such incidents do not happen in the future.

  • seetarama on December 28, 2009, 16:20 GMT

    killing cricket isnt a great issue..that happens day in day out...... killing players happens once in a blue moon...unfortunately its happening far more, when BCCI is funding so much to the boards and they cant look after pitches...especially being capital city of country mate....sorry there are enough states in India which deserve a look if these things do happen..

  • No featured comments at the moment.