Pitching for trouble
Steve Waugh and Mathew Hayden examine the MCG pitch
Australia's facile nine-wicket victory at the MCG was marred by a brewing controversy about repairs made to the pitch ahead of the final day's play. Mike Procter, the ICC match referee, attempted to brush it off as a non-issue - "There was nothing malicious about it" - but there was considerable angst in certain quarters about the curator's decision to replace a lump of soil the size of two fifty cent pieces, and that too on a spot which was a good length for the left-arm pace bowler to bowl to a left-handed batsman.
Sourav Ganguly, however, left nothing to the imagination when asked what he thought about the incident. "I would rather not comment on it," he said at a post-match press conference. "You all [journalists] saw it. You know what is right and what is wrong. The laws are pretty clear on this. Pitch tampering is not allowed."
"I was one of the first on the field in the morning," said Procter, "and I noticed that there had been some repair work. Billy Bowden confirmed that, and David Shepherd explained to Tony Ware [the curator] that he wanted to start play with the pitch in exactly the same condition as when play had ended yesterday."
When asked if he was surprised by a Test-match curator doing such a thing, Procter said, "I was a little surprised, yes. But apparently, a lot of debris is swept off the pitch each day. It's a grey area as far as the ground staff sweeping the pitch are concerned."
Prodded for more details, Proctor said that while brushing away debris, a piece had been replaced, using similar soil and a binding agent, maybe water. "When the umpires asked Tony to remove it, he did that promptly. There was nothing untoward about the whole thing."
Steve Waugh said that he hadn't realised what was going on until after the game, while Ganguly merely smiled enigmatically and refused to be drawn on the issue when asked. Proctor said that he had spoken to Ganguly - "he showed some concern at first, but when I explained what had happened, the Indian team was quite happy with it" - and that as far as he was concerned, the matter was now closed. "I will lodge a report with the ICC, but there's really no problem at all."
The laws regarding pitch-tampering are pretty clear, and there will more than likely be considerable innuendo over the next few days regarding what the reaction might have been had such an incident occurred in India or Pakistan. Different shades of grey for different folk? Only the ICC can answer that.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He will be following the ream throughout the course of the series.