India v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Delhi December 28, 2009

ICC November inspection slammed pitch

Among the several alerts, official and otherwise, raised about the condition of the Kotla pitch is one from the very highest level: An ICC team inspecting the stadium in connection with the 2011 World Cup passed a scathing indictment of the pitch and said "a considerable improvement of the pitch block" would be required to "make the pitch more acceptable" for Sunday's game.

The chief executive of the ICC Haroon Lorgat, speaking in New Delhi on Monday, did not comment on whether this report would have any bearing on the investigation of Sunday's fiasco but said it would be taken into consideration.

"There is an ODI at this venue on 27th December 2009 and considerable improvement of the pitch block will be required by then to make the pitch provided more acceptable" said the report, a copy of which is with Cricinfo. The inspection was carried out on November 4, three days after third ODI of the India-Australia series.

That game, and earlier games during the Champions League Twenty20 where batsmen struggled to counter the low and slow nature of the various pitches on the square, was noted in the November report. "During the Champions League and the India vs Australia ODI series, it was well documented that the performance and condition of the pitches at the stadium were a cause of concern for the players," the report said.

The problem with the Kotla pitch - which has already been relaid four times in the last five years under four different curators - stems from the decision, taken immediately after the second IPL was shifted to South Africa, to relay the entire square. During the Champions League Daljit Singh, till Sunday the head of the BCCI's grounds and wickets committee, said it would take about a year for the re-laid pitches to get seasoned. That point of view seems to have been overlooked with the Indian board deciding to stage at Kotla first the Australia ODI and, within two months, the game against Sri Lanka.

The ICC's inspectors, though, were never in doubt about the quality of the surface and their report offered some prescriptions for the longer term. "The pitch block was reconstructed recently and it is clear to see that there are some important issues with the present condition of the pitch surface that it is essential to address prior to CWC 2011."

As a remedial measure it suggested that the surface level across the entire square needed to be "readjusted in several areas" to help in growing the grass. The DDCA ground authorities, working with Daljit, had been experimenting with the grass, which resulted in the tufts of green spread across the pitch on which Sri Lanka batted.

There has been much talk of differences between local and centralized pitch officials and this was clear to the ICC inspection team. "It was apparent when speaking with the local officials that they are reluctant to openly discuss the problems they are having with the pitch and that they are to some extent in variance with the BCCI Pitch Consultant (Daljit Singh) regarding how they are to move forward to resolve the problems with this surface."

According to the ICC team the DDCA were adamant on replanting the pitches with local grass, which they felt would take care of the problem. But that idea was fraught with dangers. "To simply replant without this major renovation of the surface would be a major miscalculation, and would result in inadequate pitches at a later date," the report said.

"The dead and the decaying grass and roots left in the soil profile will break down into organic matter and will contribute to the dilution of the clay content of the soil and contribute to the pitches produced in the future being slow in pace, spongy in texture, and would tend to generate slow and inconsistent bounce from the pitches in the future."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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