Kotla pitch fiasco December 29, 2009

'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.

It probably might not have been a 280-run match, but it could've been a 180-run affair. 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 Singh

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Raman on December 31, 2009, 17:17 GMT

    The main problem is that the batsmen want the pitches to be always benign to them so that they can cart the hapless bowlers, bowling on featherbed pitches allover the ground. The first time the pitch has some juice for the bowlers,whining from the batsmen starts If the match had to be called off,why was it delayed for 23 overs? The only reason is that if 25 overs had been bowled.it would have counted as a match and India would have played their innings. SL did not want an official result probably not to make the series scoreline look more adverse to it. Batsmen must play under all conditions as was the practice when pitches were not covered.Would the authorities have stopped the game if the bowlers had complained of flat,lifeless pitches? Batsmen want everything their way.What sort of logic is this?

  • Anirban on December 30, 2009, 19:08 GMT

    DDCA's incompetence to run a proper cricket board has been highlighted with the following facts:- 1. sehwag complained of its corruption in the selection committee. 2.Gautam Gambhir had hinted out at the quality of the cricket pitch during the CLT20. 3. Ricky Ponting had also complained about the poor cricket pitch and apart from that the Australian team was also not given practice pitch in the right time. 4. And now the latest issue with SL team refusing to play the match due to the nightmare of a wicket.

    The list is endless...I am sure there are more to follow

  • jude on December 30, 2009, 17:50 GMT

    There seems to be a lot of wisdom in hindsight in this article! If Daljit Singh does not have the authority to advise holding matches why appoint such an official in the first place? If he felt that Kotla wd not be playing true (and the CLT20 showed it did not) why did he not resign his post when his advise was not heeded by the BCCI/DDCA? It is elementary that anything new is tested before put to serious use. And there is a plan B (alternative arrangement if things do not work out. The many 'plans' to test the newly laid pitch sounds unconvincing in this context. Like many things in India and Indian cricket administration, the whole pitch preparation and its condition is shrouded in mystery. For the superficial, the entire Indian nation has become a laughing stock. India needs and deserves professional management of its cricket in all its aspects. Else it wont take too long to lose the top tier status we have in world cricket, sponsors and spectators.

  • Abhishek Reddy on December 30, 2009, 17:32 GMT

    Mr daljit singh..U shud have resigned from ur post with immediate effect

  • Rashan on December 30, 2009, 14:14 GMT

    I hate that many use CHICKEN-OUT word as sanga walked out from match.if match would have continued till lankans bowled out,i dont think that indians will chase easily even target is 150 or less.but both teams failed to play an exchibition match to entertain spectators by bowling only spin or slow in order make hapi who turned out for match.

  • Balaji on December 30, 2009, 14:10 GMT

    The pathetic state of preparation of commonwealth games, and now this. What's wrong in Delhi? Seriously, someone has to take charge of sports there and clean up the mess.

  • Anirban on December 30, 2009, 14:01 GMT

    Well mr daljit singh...its too late now..the way you prepared the pitch with grass which was kept in lumps instead of being spread all over the pitch..the biggest mistake which you made was trying too many stuff on a new wicket...Had you prepapared it on a same low bouncy wicket instead of your grass stuff which you seem not be too much seasoned with it,a whole nation would have never been shamed..The ship called BCCI is sinking anyway..Let them swim on their bank notes while cricket in india can go to drain

  • nipuna on December 30, 2009, 12:52 GMT

    I have seen several comments stating srilanka chickend out (this has being stated by DDCA VP chetan also) see all. since SL batted first and took the pain all indian supporters can say anything they want. but if you watched the match u myt have seen the actual scenario it was unsafe and too dangerous to carry on. if india batted first with Suranga Lakmal bowling just think what would have happened ( i hope everyone can remember the 4th odi and how he bowled in that flat wicket) BCCI has all the money in the world, still they cant create solid wickets SHAME !!

  • Bhanu on December 30, 2009, 12:35 GMT

    I think Sangakkara was being smart because he has already lost at least 4 players due to injury from the time the tour started and if he was to loose any more he would not have much of a team to play the trangular. SL has already lost the series, if SL was 2-2 and 85 for 5 you can say he chicked out to save the series. The iriony is the people in India did not have the common sense to play at least once match after a pitch was laid. That is just stupidity. I will not blame the curator much. You cannot get a pitch spot on, on the first occassion, it is a tough job. I think Chethan Chaouhan should put a shoe in his mouth. One moment he is saying the pitch

  • Mark on December 30, 2009, 11:11 GMT

    Would someone please ask Daljit about the cement chippings which I witnessed groundstaff spreading across the whole pitch block on 26 May. I was surprised about how close to the surface of the relaid block these chippings were being spread. I am no groundsman but I could not see how it would be possible to produce a surface with consistent bounce with this hard core lying so close to the surface. It would be instructive if a portion of the block were now dug up to see whether this hard core cement is still there.

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