'I should have insisted on trials' - Daljit Singh
Daljit Singh, who was sacked as chairman of the BCCI's grounds and pitches committee in the wake of the fiasco at Feroz Shah Kotla, has said his fault was in not insisting on holding practice games on what was essentially an unused wicket. He also said the timetable for using the relaid pitch was derailed by the scheduling of Champions League games at the ground, at least a month before the planned start to the season.
"Our failure, including mine, was not to insist on having trial games on the pitch before allowing an international match to take place. Holding some practice games would have helped us assess how the ball behaved after pitching," Daljit told Cricinfo on Tuesday after attending the Delhi & Districts Cricket Association's (DDCA) annual general meeting.
He said his most important mistake was blindly refusing to work on the centre block, which houses the seven main pitches, especially after it drew heavy flak during the Champions League Twenty20 in October and the third match of the India-Australia ODI series, played on October 31. In both instances players criticised the slow and low nature of the pitches, which were completely devoid of grass.
"I accept the blame to the extent that I shouldn't have taken for granted that the pitches on which the Champions League matches and the Australia ODI were held were not anymore low and slow as I felt they might have improved in nature," he said.
This is the first time Daljit has spoken since Sunday's incidents, when the fifth ODI between India and Sri Lanka was called off after 23 overs with the match referee deeming the pitch "dangerous" and "unfit" for an international.
Daljit's report, already with the Indian board, will help the BCCI respond to match referee Alan Hurst's official assessment, which was forwarded by the ICC on Monday. The BCCI has 14 days to reply along with the feedback it received from various parties including Daljit, the DDCA and the ground authorities.
However, Daljit admitted it would be harsh to single out him and the DDCA ground authorities, especially when the Kotla was freshly relaid in April with the IPL's second season moving to South Africa. "I knew it would not be the best of the pitches in the first year after being relaid," Daljit said.
It is common knowledge that a new pitch takes anywhere between 6-12 months to get seasoned. But Daljit said he did not have the authority to point it out to the BCCI and DDCA. "The decision not to host an international match lies with the BCCI and the DDCA."
The original plan had the newly-laid tracks to be tested during Delhi's home matches in the Ranji Trophy during November-December but the DDCA, he said, were caught unawares by Delhi's inclusion in the Champions League Twenty20 [announced in late May].
What also affected the groundwork were the inconsistent rains. "July was dry, August it rained for about a week and in September it only rained for eight days, when some practice games were scheduled to be played," Daljit said.
Hence everything had to "sandwiched" in the days leading to the Champions League. Little wonder then that the bounce was low and slow on the grassless tracks. In fact, Daljit felt the trend would not improve till next year.
Interestingly, it was the bounce that had prompted the DDCA to relay the ground for the fourth time in the last five years. "They were not happy with the bounce, which they felt was inadequate," Daljit said.
He was asked for suggestions, being part of the BCCI's panel and used to giving guidelines to state associations and local groundsmen. The decision was to completely relay the whole ground. Qualified personnel were drafted in to supervise the work, which was smoothly progressing.
In fact, the ICC's inspection team that came to Delhi on November 4 as part of the venue assessment for the 2010 World Cup ticked the 'on track' box for all the amenities, facilities and even the outfield. However, they felt the centre block that houses the seven main pitches was not in any position to host the Sri Lanka ODI on December 27.
Effectively, DDCA had eight weeks to prepare for the match and Daljit believed that in order to change the nature of the pitch, only "rye variety of grass could be grown so fast in the winter". This was done from November 7 even as local wisdom (the DDCA ground authorities) wanted the doob variety of grass.
According to Daljit, doob is a runner type of grass and winter was not the ideal season for it to grow as it is normally planted either during spring or just before rains. In winter, doob grows dormant and so the local variety never grew.
The winter grass, on the other hand, was fantastic but the main problem encountered was that during the planting process there was some disturbance of the surface
On the three centre pitches there was mixed grass with winter grass on the other four. The main problem was rye grass was planted by the "broadcast" method, which involves spreading the rye seeds by hands. For the doob grass the sprigging process is used where the surface is punctured initially and the grass is pushed in using the spade.
Daljit feared this caused the bumps in the soil. "Meanwhile the winter grass was flourishing but what was happening underneath was not visible," Daljit said. "It was flattened, rolled and cut but the mistake made was the pitch was not tried," Daljit said.
He admitted though, the surface for the fifth and final ODI between India and Sri Lanka was not ideal but did not agree with the decision to call the match off after 23.3 overs. "It probably might not have been a 280-run match, but it could've been a 180-run affair," said Daljit. "I definitely felt the game should have gone ahead.
"Frankly, in total, less than 10 balls behaved awkwardly in those 23 overs and the highest a batsman got hit was on the shoulders while the rest got rapped on the knuckles and hands. Some kept low. Nobody got hit on the head or the face."
Daljit, who was working on the BCCI grounds and pitch committee for 12 years, said ICC match referee Alan Hurst probably took the decision in haste. "I don't quite agree with the decision," he said. "Obviously, Hurst is a respected person, appointed by the ICC and one has to respect that. But as a former cricketer, somebody who is involved in pitch-making, I feel such you do come across difficult pitches now and then as it tests your character, your temperament, your skills."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo