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India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 2nd day

Mukherjee true to ageless tradition

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

David Hopps

December 6, 2012

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

Eden Gardens curator Prabir Mukherjee smiles, India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 1st day, December 5, 2012
Prabir Mukherjee has lived up to his own billing once again © BCCI
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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

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JustIPL 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).

Posted by Myindian 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

Posted by princeofnyc 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!

Posted by 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!!

Posted by   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.

Posted by mateyman 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.

Posted by ToTellUTheTruth 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by JustIPL 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.

Posted by Nampally 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!

Posted by rogermal57 on (December 6, 2012, 19:29 GMT)

This wicket is not going to turn like the square turner at Wankhede, even on day 4 or 5. It will deteriorate very slowly, albeit that can be a bit more dangerous than at the incredibly low pace and bounce of Ahmedabad. So India can survive in the 2nd innings, but it will take immense concentration and character to play Panesar in particular. Most of his wickets in this match were off full pitched deliveries, where batsmen needed to follow the flight of the ball right down to their toes and block - Pujara, Zaheer and Ishant all got out like they could not follow his straight ball and react quickly enough. Come on guys, you can do better.

Posted by mrmonty on (December 6, 2012, 19:02 GMT)

One has to thank the curators for killing test cricket in India. I think it was Harbhajan that said this guy should be awarded contracts for national highways.

Posted by Rahulbose on (December 6, 2012, 17:57 GMT)

Well the eleven folks playing for India currently can't win on any surface, not against this English side anyway. So what Mukherjee Da did or did not do is totally irrelevant.

Posted by moBlue on (December 6, 2012, 17:55 GMT)

dhoni had every right to ask for the kind of pitches he thought might help IND batters. i have watched for 10 years (since IND went to play in SA and faced a lightning-quick track at centurion on day 1 and were promptly 68 for 4 within 90 minutes!) when SA, AUS and ENG have given IND green and bouncy pitches on which kumble and bhajji have routinely been reduced to spectators! yet it is their right to do that... it is called having the home-field advantage! what is wrong with this mukherjee dude that he doesn't seem to get something as basic as that?!?

i also lo-o-oved the IND-AUS test in 2001 played in kolkata where the ball bounced and spun sharply in all 4 innings!!! the oz had warne and IND had bhajji to make batters hop and dance!!! that was one heck of a contest between bat and ball!!! what is wrong with dhoni asking for the same pitch?!? in fact, i am tired of seeing tests where the batters are only tested by quality seam bowling! if you notice, SG balls don't even swing!!!

Posted by InsideHedge on (December 6, 2012, 17:14 GMT)

There's very little in this wicket for the bowlers, I thought England bowled well on the 1st day but the Indian batting was downright awful. They were edging deliveries that were only moving off the seam ever so slightly, Tendulkar's dismissal is an example. You can see why India struggle on seaming wickets.

By the end of this series, we could be seeing Indian cricket at its lowest depths in decades, and I see no short term fixes. We're just going to have accept the hard facts, and this time instead of ignoring the truth it's time that the people responsible for cricket in the country start making the necessary changes from grassroots up. Here's a suggestion: all youngsters should be able, talented fielders. If you can't field, you can't make the team. By the time a bloke is playing intl cricket, he should be a more than an adequate fielder.

Posted by MysticMan on (December 6, 2012, 17:04 GMT)

For the past decade or so, India's Fab 5 masked India's deficiencies in Bowling and fielding and these are coming home to roost now. We egg our children to become like Sachin and look down on Kumble/ Kapil Dev wannabees (I am stereotyping here but research shows that Indians tune in in significant numbers when their side is batting). Bits and pieces cricketers can make you feel good in the shorter forms of the game but in Tests, we lay completely exposed. Even if the selectors make changes for the 4th test, it will at best be cosmetic. What is needed is a young, hungry unit willing to take its knocks and learn from it. We may lose a few more series which is what is happening even with the so-called greats playing for the team. Will the 5 wise men do it? Nice to dream a team that has the likes of Unmukt Chand, Smit Patel, Pujara, Kohli(c), Sachin, Jadeja,Baba Aparajith,Sandeep Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Harmeet Singh and 1 fast bowler...

Posted by Nampally on (December 6, 2012, 16:40 GMT)

Kudos to Mr. Mukherjee in staying true to his traditional pitch prep. Respect the great Curator for integrity.As for the Indian batting, it is doleful to say the least. Blaming the aging Cricketers when India has so much young talent being wasted by beaurocratic Selectors is a poor excuse.Favouritism & Nepotism rules supreme in India. Right now India can field a young team of <30 year olds who will do far better than these jaded guys. There are brilliant fielders in the Indian team when they go with youngsters. Guys like Raina, Tiwary, Jadeja, Kohli, Rahane,Chand, Rohit Sharma are all superb fielders & excellent batsmen. Add a couple of pacers like Yadev, Aaron (both 140 KPH) +3 spinners + 2 All rounders + captain Pujara+ 2 openers + WK, India has a good squad. In fact there is a surplus of talent. If the team cannot win either on a flat or Turner pitch,Dhoni blames the Curator! Where is the commitment & Accountability in the players when they blame everyone else but themselves?

Posted by   on (December 6, 2012, 16:34 GMT)

Good to see Indian fans are somewhat positive. I emphasized the fact many times that SRT can't do anything without Dravid and laxman.

Posted by swat1999 on (December 6, 2012, 15:02 GMT)

Probir Mukharjee become a celebrity status and remain as a hero weather India Lost or win the Kolkata test. If MS Dhoni team failure in Kolkata Mukharjee will be heart but people will be lough

Posted by Bala_1961 on (December 6, 2012, 13:25 GMT)

It is sad if India lost this test even for a momement we can consider that England played excellent cricket and outplayed India in all Departments. Yet fact remains that it is after a long time an Indian Team faces a debacle in Home turf. All of those cricketers playing should take the collective responsibility to aovid the disaster. Even if they have to stay at the crease for two days as I feel bowling is beyond redemption and India have to wage their lone battle through the batsmans till such time they found entirely new set of good bowlers.

Posted by baranasai on (December 6, 2012, 13:24 GMT)

Whatever the pitch is a good batsman should do well.I thought Dhoni hasa point as when Indians go abroad they give greener wickets which are very fast and bouncy andIndian batsmen struggle-they loose.However the Request of Dhonoi to get a spinners wicket was more useful to The England team where Alistair was cooking delicious Indian recipes-double sweet hundreds etc . Indian batsmen have no guts to fight afer Rahul Dravid who was not recognised.SRT is good but he is on his last lap and he is tired.When the people were keen to push Dravid Lakshman and SRT there will be a big void-new players will gradually come in and fill it up-but the gap of 1-2 years will bring in a temp decline in Indian performance-so we have to accept that.About Bowlers -who is the bowling coach-is there any body advising them as how to bowl as they seem to lack aim and will to fight. Zac and ash look below par.there is no other supporting bowlers. It is a total disater .Unless they contain England to 400

Posted by landl47 on (December 6, 2012, 13:20 GMT)

This is actually exactly the kind of pitch India needed. They have shown all too clearly over the last two years that they can't handle pitches which favour seam bowling. In the previous test (and incidentally in the Oval test of 2011 in which Swann took 9-208) they have shown that they can't handle bounce and turm either. What they needed was a featherbed and to win the toss, so that they could pile up a huge score and then grind England down. Usually, 2 out of 3 isn't bad, but here getting the easy pitch and winning the toss wasn't enough. 316 is looking at least 100 short of a par score and if England can bat through to day 4 India will have to bat from behind on a pitch that might be starting to take turn. Then they are in trouble. Mr. Mukherjee has done India a favour, but he can't bat and bowl for them. Oh, and he has made himself look silly by promising and pitch with pace and bounce, too.

Posted by   on (December 6, 2012, 13:18 GMT)

"Shame on you MSD,salute to Mukherjee dada you have just provided the great track to watch a great game!"........

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (December 6, 2012, 12:55 GMT)

Well, up to now the pitch has delivered exactly what he promised: it has rewarded good cricket. There is something in it for a bowler who makes an effort (seam and swing have shared the wickets evenly) but, if a batsman is determined, the surface is far from impossible. As such, it is the first good, Test pitch of the series. The better side should win.

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