Slow pitches not exactly good news for India
"Yeah look gosh I am not sure I have seen a wicket turn as much as it did last night. That was incredible. Obviously in the New Zealand innings the ball turned quite a bit but when New Zealand were bowling, goodness me the ball turned hell of a lot. Indian players are very good players of spin, but, I am not sure if they were hoping for those conditions exactly."
- Shane Watson, who saw the World T20 opener on TV in Dharamsala
The first two venues used in this World T20, Nagpur and Dharamsala, have rolled out slow and low pitches. It is surprising for Dharamsala because it is known for its pace and carry; the one in Nagpur for the India-New Zealand match was a massive turner. Incidentally, these two grounds are the bastions of the BCCI president and secretary, who also openly criticised the ICC for its "poor" rating of the Nagpur pitch used for the Test against South Africa.
These are also the venues where India were originally supposed to play their first two matches. All this just adds to the suspicion that India are having their way with pitches even at an ICC event - a suspicion that lingered after India's surprise defeat by New Zealand.
Still, there is no evidence yet that India have asked for these kind of pitches. Indeed, conventional wisdom would suggest that unlike in the ODIs, flat pitches suit India the best. Their superior spinners can still draw a lot out of flat pitches, the regulation Indian pitches, which others might not be able to. India beat Australia 3-0 on flat pitches in Australia with their spinners playing a key role. It would be presumptuous as of now to say the pitches in Dharamsala and Nagpur assisted turn to favour India, but there is a big concern around that the toss could prove crucial if the Nagpur pitch is repeated.
Dave Richardson, the ICC's CEO, was clear on this issue in the lead-up to the event. "Normally for an ICC event, we have our own pitch consultant to oversee pitch preparations at all the venues," Richardson had told ESPNcricinfo on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai to announce the fixtures for the World T20. "Obviously we want to make sure no one particular team is favoured, and essentially, when it comes to T20 cricket, that we have good batting wickets that will be the same for both the team batting first or second. And that will be the goal."
As it turns out, Andy Atkinson, the ICC's chief of pitches and grounds, is unavailable because of a knee injury. In his absence, Daljit Singh, the head of the BCCI's pitches committee, has been asked to ensure sporting pitches were provided across the venues. Daljit even held a workshop for the curators in Mumbai in the lead-up to the event. The local curators are now working under Daljit and the zonal heads of the BCCI pitches committee. So it is now Daljit for Dharamsala and Taposh Chatterjee for Nagpur.
The curators are not allowed to speak to the press, but ESPNcricinfo has learnt, from officials privy to the pitch preparation in Nagpur, that, while they expected the pitch to be low and slow because of the amount of cricket it had taken, they were also surprised with the amount of turn. Nagpur has experienced hot weather in the month leading up to the World T20; it has also hosted practice matches and six qualifiers. The pitch for the India-New Zealand game was being used for the fourth time; the last match it hosted was Afghanistan v Zimbabwe on March 12.
One official said it was wrong to suggest the pitch was doctored or spin-friendly. "It was a flat, shiny surface even when I checked the pitch after the match," he said. "The pitch had got sufficient rolling. It was intact after completion of the match. Then how can you blame anyone or the curator for a low-scoring match?" New Zealand, though, were not fooled by the sheen, and selected three spinners, benching their lead quicks, Tim Southee and Trent Boult.
Over in Dharamsala, overuse has come up as one of the reasons behind slow pitches. An official there told ESPNcricinfo that it had been a really cold winter, and that the ground had hosted camps organised by the Asian Cricket Council. Oman had been in Dharamsala till February 17 when they left for the Asia Cup. Lack of sun, though, has emerged as a big problem. The Bermuda grass needs ample sunshine to grow, and the square has not had much of it here. Without grass it is difficult to get pace.
Watson, though, was not buying tired pitches as an excuse for the low scores. Asked if he was surprised at such slow pitches at the start of the event with the prospect of their getting only slower, he said: "To be able to see that wicket last night in Nagpur, I've played cricket here around this time previously and even into the IPL as well when the wickets you think should be fairly tired, but they're very good cricket wickets. So maybe just that situation of the game meant the wicket was fairly dry."
It is not yet clear how the ICC match referee has reacted to the pitch or how the BCCI top brass looks at the state of affairs. Yet another pitch controversy, and India losing badly, was the last thing they would have wanted after fiasco after fiasco with venue allocation and ticketing.
Sidharth Monga and Nagraj Gollapudi are assistant editors at ESPNcricinfo