India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 2nd day December 6, 2012

Mukherjee true to ageless tradition

David Hopps
Having staunchly resisted MS Dhoni's cry for a quick-fix surface, the Eden Gardens groundsman, who has served India very well for 27 years, will find satisfaction in a pitch that meets his own standards

At 83, especially when your blood pressure is high, it is best to keep life on an even keel. As Prabir Mukherjee has observed a Kolkata Test honouring the slowly-evolving traditions he has known for a lifetime he must have allowed himself a sigh of contentment at a job well done. His doctor would have approved.

Complete rest, no undue excitement, doubtless followed up with an additional reminder to wrap up warm (it is winter in Kolkata after all) was what Mukherjee's doctor reportedly advised after his spat with India's captain, MS Dhoni, over his calls for a pitch that would turn from the outset. "Immoral," was Mukherjee's implacable judgement on Dhoni's wishes before he presented a surface that would do rather more for his own health than the Indian captain's.

Dhoni's desperation for a quick fix was always unlikely to sit easily with a groundsman of such longevity. It is natural for a captain, at the peak of his ambition and physical prowess, to concern himself only with short-term solutions, a way (perhaps the only way) to try to mask the inadequacies of an ageing India side. And it was natural for Mukherjee to protect his domain, to care not about the present, but to put his faith in tried-and-trusted methods that had served him for much of his lifetime.

This is a used pitch, true, but only in the manner of a used, beige cardigan, one that might even be found in Mukherjee's wardrobe, one which might no longer be fashionable but which still has bags of wear. England will anticipate that it will become moth-eaten well before the final day. If it does, and an India defeat is the consequence, Mukherjee will regard the outcry that follows as noise from afar, of little consequence.

Mukherjee has served India well. They have lost only two out of 14 matches under his supervision. He might well see them lose this one, especially if Alastair Cook continues to bat in this fashion. Mukherjee has watched many great players pass this way. Perhaps this was the day to say about Cook something that has never quite tripped off the tongue: that he, too, deserves that accolade of greatness.

Cook, Mukherjee must have reflected, is not only dominating this series, he is easy on the eye. You can either observe him intently and note the solid defence, the scrupulous shot selection, the certainty on the sweep - rare for an Englishman - and the gradual unfolding of a more expansive game, or when fatigue takes hold you can simply soak him up, as men of his age are wont to do, by staring into the middle distance, bathing in the serenity of his innings.

Cook, from the minute he made a Test century on debut in Nagpur, has been attuned more to the patience of India than its clamour. When he reached his 23rd Test hundred, an England record, and took off his helmet to acknowledge the applause, Mukherjee, if his concentration had held, might have noticed how boyish he looked, still so youthful of countenance that he should be dreaming of records not already breaking them. Achievement comes so soon only to those most blessed, their greater challenge not to break the records that come their way, but to cope with the great expanse of life remaining when the ambitions have been met.

Mukherjee's reputation in his own profession has been built rather later in life. He was 56 when he first prepared a Test pitch at Eden Gardens 27 years ago and he remains spritely enough to have ushered Michael Atherton, a former England captain turned journalist and broadcaster, away from his precious square before the match. Standards must be maintained; it is his job to do the staring, to sniff the wind, to roll and water and contemplate the meaning of existence.

The last time England played on his Test pitch, 20 years ago, it certainly turned. England picked four fast bowlers plus the wing-and-prayer legspin of Ian Salisbury; India fielded three spinners and won at a canter. Graham Gooch's 100th Test brought only unhappiness and Ted Dexter, in a misguided attempt to deflect criticism, took refuge in a chance dinner conversation with a professor of his acquaintance and announced he had commissioned a study into Kolkata pollution levels. He admitted in Kolkata this week, shortly before he was driven around the outfield in a short procession of former players, that he never did receive it.

Gooch, now England's batting coach, looked on in happier circumstances as Cook progressed dependably towards his record. Occasionally the TV camera caught his mentor's eyes half-closing, a little wearily. On the day that Cook breaks Gooch's record as England's leading Test runscorer, it will probably be Gooch who feels more tired. But if he did doze for a second or two, it was a contented doze, brought about by his pride in a batsman he has treasured since schooldays and the slumberous, second-day nature of Mukherjee's Test pitch.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tahir on December 7, 2012, 21:42 GMT

    Pujara came good in the first and second match and we heard that he never gets out bla, bla but now he is getting bold easily. First was won on a strange pitch and english team took a while to settle that gave Pujara a go. We cant say we have Kohli and Pujara and others who can make it different for India. They may come good against weaker teams both home and away but not the top 3 or 4 teams (in tests).

  • Mohamed on December 7, 2012, 8:09 GMT

    England Spinners Better Than Indian spinners Economic Run-rates......First Test India Win Right way.....But Dhoni Ask Change Pitch to Spin Advance to English Team......Great Mistake For Captain Dhoni...

    I.Mohamed Hanifa,Chennai

  • Sudeep on December 7, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Its a sad day indeed when the mighty Indian team is reduced to blaming the curators for all their woes!

  • Sankara on December 7, 2012, 4:47 GMT

    "Captain at the peak of his ambition and prowesss"???? Last 12 tests, 9 losses- some peak, some prowess!!

  • Dummy4 on December 7, 2012, 2:01 GMT

    Bring In Ravindra Jadeja and let him play at number 4 position. He and Pujara are perfect foil for test cricket. Jadeja has been in a terriific form with 3 triple centuries in a year. Drop Gambhir and bring in Unmukt chand to open with Sehwag. Sehwag should be warned to play sensibly now and keep Rahane as back up opener. Sachin should be shown the door along with zaheer. Harmeet and baba aparajit should be included in 15 squad to be understudy of some of the seniors.

  • Alex on December 7, 2012, 1:26 GMT

    @moBlue there is a difference between home advantage, and the natural characteristics of a wicket, and specifically making it a rank turner.

  • Srinivas on December 6, 2012, 22:11 GMT

    Wow...we are in for a Cook/Trott yawn fest, only to set up a KP blitzkreig...200 in 125 balls...that may lead to England declaring at 670+ score by the end of day three. Anderson/Swann/Panesar wrapping up the hopeless Indians by tea time on Day 4 for 182. Excellent.

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2012, 20:59 GMT

    Always felt that Indian players are more about talent than hard-work. That works for a while but sooner or later somebody is gonna figure out even the most talented spinner and if he is not ready to put in the extra yards and reinvent himself then he's gonna be taken to cleaners. Talent alone looks attractive but hard-work is effective.

  • Tahir on December 6, 2012, 20:58 GMT

    Although, this time his track bullies are trying to save the game but in the past with India having front line batsmen the track was raelly helpful and also India had kumble to trouble the opposition when there is pressure of runs on them.

  • Ashok on December 6, 2012, 19:55 GMT

    @MysticMan: You are on right track about your thinking. However some of the youngsters you have included are not quite ready e.g. Aparajith, Smit Patel, Harmeet. Also Kohli has been struggling to hold on to his spot with 5 consecutive failures. India needs Reliability & Accountability as the main attributes in batsmen. For Bowlers Skill, control & wkt.taking ability must be emphasised. Most reliable batsmen in the current team are Pujara, Sehwag & Gambhir. I wish I could say the same about SRT & Yuvraj- both inconsistent. This is what is needed in replacement batsmen.In-form Jadeja is a good replacement for Yuvraj. In present bowlers, only Ojha has the wkt. taking ability. Yadev was the other such guy. India needs 2 more wkt. taking bowlers. Ashwin is wayward & has serious control problems. India needs a RH wrist Leg spinner badly + a quality off spinner - both with wkt. taking ability -4th test requirements. Strangely, the Selectors do not believe in Einstiens definition if Insanity!

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