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

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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

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