Teams wary of dry Ranchi outfield
In a series that is seen as preparation for the World Twenty20, it is unfortunate for both the teams that the conditions given to them in the first two T20Is are highly unlikely to be replicated in a long time. After the bouncy and seaming pitch in Pune, the second T20I will be played on an almost barren outfield in Ranchi.
While close to half the ground looks yellow, there are big patches with absolutely no grass. It is hard to remember the last time an international was played on such a surface. When India toured South Africa in 2013-14, a rain-ravaged Durban outfield had to do with generous chunks of sawdust, making it look like a golf course, but even that outfield had more grassy patches on it.
It is worth noting that Ranchi, the hometown of India captain MS Dhoni, is a last-minute replacement for Delhi, which was originally scheduled to host this match. The match was shifted on January 29, which gave Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) a notice of 13 days. The ground also played host to 20 women's matches across formats - two-day, one-day and Twenty20 - in the month of January. After this match, it will go straight into hosting six women's internationals - between India and Sri Lanka - from February 15 to 26.
To add to the perfect storm, during the last off season, the JSCA decided to add more sand to the outfield, which was considered to be too hard. The rainfall has not been generous either. "For the last one month women's one-dayers and zonal matches were going on," JSCA secretary Rajesh Verma said. "So the ground was quite used. For an international match you need a better outfield. We had 10 days. It was a new challenge, and we have worked hard on it. It's easy to say no, but we took the challenge. And we have prepared it."
The head groundsman Vasudev spoke of the lack of rain: "The weather has not been good. According to the government a drought has been declared. Water is life. How will there be life without the water? We have tried to bring the water from outside and make it green."
Verma, however, said that JSCA had never considered refusing the match. He also said the association had tried its best and was hoping for a good match. Chamara Kapugedera, the Sri Lanka batsman, was not impressed, though. "Yes, it's not the ideal outfield but you have to put that apart and do what's necessary," Kapugedera said. "It's beyond our control anyway, and we have to play the match anyway. It doesn't look that bad, there's just sand and that's okay."
Ravi Shastri, India's team director, said he could tell from the outfield itself that the pitch was going to be dry. "I haven't seen the pitch yet," Shastri said, suggesting an extra spinner could play for India. "But what I see from the outfield is, it is pretty dry and there is a lot of sand. What it suggests is it has not had much of water. We are game to play horses for courses."
The ball could reverse even in a 20-over match thanks to the dry outfield. The biggest concern for the teams so close to the World T20 will be the risk of an injury on this outfield, which is bumpy and does not look too diving-friendly. However, both the sides promised the fielders won't be taking it easy.
"It's an international game, and there won't be a drop in standard due to the outfield," Kapugedera said. "We'll lift our game more. You have to be more careful while fielding. We'll put the bodies behind and do our best."
"They [the fielders] have to adapt," Shastri said. "It is, again, practice. They have to get their bodies behind the ball. Ground fielding might not be all that easy there. You could get some uneven bounce. But you should use this practice session to see what has to be done to ensure there are no misfields, which can happen tomorrow. But the lesser, the better."
Everybody involved will now hope this banana peel of a match goes without too much of bother, that for an international match it does not look too ugly, and that no one gets injured on the field.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo