Australia v New Zealand, TVS Cup, Game 5, Pune November 2, 2003

The man behind the Pune pitch

Chandu Borde: from chief selector to pitch curator
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Everything in cricket revolves around the pitch - but not according to Chandu Borde. Borde, who has now moved on from chief selector of the Indian team to the curator in charge of the Jawaharal Nehru Stadium in Pune, is puzzled by all the fuss being made about pitches these days.

"I don't know why the cricketers these days are so hell-bent on having pitches made to their liking. With all the protective gear a player is decorated with these days, why should he bother about the pitch?" He then elucidates his point, his hands thumping his elbow, grabbing his head, and clutching his chest, as he talks about the elaborate equipment that players wear these days. "We never had these in our time," he says. "They [the modern cricketers] have got these things to protect them - a beautiful abdomen guard, a chest guard, then the helmet. And they're worried about a little grass on the pitch?"

Wearing a skyblue trackpant, a half-sleeve blue-and-white T-shirt and a floppy white hat, Borde is every bit as enthusiastic as a young player eager to do well in a match. His brief is to prepare a pitch that will lead to a good game of cricket, and he refuses to be bogged down by orders from the mandarins of the state and national boards - though he says he has never got any such orders.

But how did Chandu Borde, a dashing middle-order batsman and an MCC-certified coach, become a curator? It all started in the 1960s when he was playing in the Lancashire League. During those 15 years he did much more than just play cricket. "Every season I used to assist the groundsmen and I picked up the fundamentals of making a wicket from there."

Borde was a never a cricket-only man. His life has been always colourful. Off the field, you can spot him letting his hair down, sipping a few drinks at the Poona Club. On the field too, he was a modest allrounder praised by many of his contemporaries. "I have been an allrounder on and off the field. Many people don't even know that I have done a course in coaching from the MCC. So this hunger for learning various things has always helped me in doing many interesting things. And preparing pitches is one of them."

Having made a few pitches in the Lancashire League, Borde prepared his first wicket in India in his hometown Pune, for the ODI between India and England in 1984-85. "I remember that wicket gave assistance to both the seamers and the batsmen equally."

The pitch for Monday's match between Australia and New Zealand will behave similarly, he asserts. The first one hour will help the bowler, and after that the ball will come on to the bat and the batsmen will be able to play shots on the rise. Borde's statement seems to be borne out by the pitch itself, which has a fair amount of grass on it, but also seems to be hard and true.

Pitch experts have become a niche thing over the years, and now, with artificial turfs becoming more and more common, a curator needs to do more than have a native knowledge of the ground and the soil. "Yes, it is important for me to keep myself updated on the latest in pitch technology." Borde says he picked up quite a few points at the BCCI seminar for curators and pitch experts in Kolkata recently. "Things like how much fertiliser content should be used, when we should roll the wicket, when the grass should be cut, how much water and rolling should go into make a good wicket, how to get rid of the weeds and the nut grass ... I learnt a lot."

So what is the ideal wicket? "A wicket which has the ball coming on to the bat, where there's a big score, and the opposition bowlers try to restrict the batsmen. So there is a challenge for both the batsman and a bowler." Fair point. But has he got the freedom to go ahead and prepare that kind of pitch. "The new Maharashtra Cricket Association committee has given me a free hand and I have the full authority to do what I want."

But curators have always been under pressure from the home side to prepare pitches which would aid the host's chances of winning. "Fortunately I have never encountered anything of that sort, but yes, there is pressure which I think is unnecessary. I have seen bizarre things like grass being cut by the hairdresser's scissors at one of the ground in India."

Borde feels that one of the problems faced in India is the identity of the soil: down south it is red, in the north and east it is white while in the west it is grey and sandy. So it would be ideal if the task of preparation of the wicket is given to the local curator who has had enough experience. "I accept that the local groundsman may not have the scientific knowledge but his experience will overcome that handicap."

Coming back to the Nehru Stadium, Borde feels satisfied that his hard work is finally paying dividends. "The ground was in a terrible state till the end of last season. The amount of matches, preparation camps and club cricket didn't leave enough time for the local groundsman to heal the wicket. So he used to just water it and roll it, water it and roll it."

Meanwhile, at the stadium, the groundsmen are giving the finishing touches, the roller is on, the teams are practising in the background. And Chandu Borde's 69-year-old body is restless like a father who can't stay away from his kid. He is expecting the baby to deliver. Within 24 hours we will know the result.