Ranji Trophy Plate League 2011-12

Re-laid Kochi pitch lends Plate division bite

Kerala's surge this Ranji season marks a turnaround in their fortunes, and their thrilling finishes against Services and Andhra on the treacherous pitch at the Nehru Stadium stand out in a season of dull draws

Nitin Sundar

December 4, 2011

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Nehru Stadium, Kochi
The pitch at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi has been re-laid after the 2011 IPL © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Four rounds into the Ranji season, Kerala are in with a solid chance of making the Plate league semi-finals, marking a strong turnaround for a side normally used to bringing up the rear. Last year, they finished winless, drawing four games and losing one, but they already have two wins and no losses this season. Kerala's clean-sheet tells only half the story though: they came alarmingly close to defeat in two of their games, both played on the treacherous pitch at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi, but escaped with a draw and a win to keep their campaign in good health.

First, Kerala's last pair batted out 125 balls to produce a a tense draw against Services, after they had fallen to 103 for 9 in pursuit of 153. The thrills of that game, however, were made to look almost mundane by the denouement of Kerala's fourth-round fixture, where Andhra Pradesh's last pair added 26 to get within an outside edge of victory, before the hosts squeaked home by two runs on the last morning.

Kerala's nail-biters have lit up the normally unglamorous Plate League, and sparked interest in a season that has largely featured mindless run-fests and crawling races for first-innings honours. Part of the credit must go to the Nehru Stadium pitch where run-making has bordered on the impossible. In three matches, only once has a team managed to reach 300; even that was against the unflattering Tripura bowling line-up. Leaving out that innings, only four fifties have come in ten innings - a striking contrast from the IPL season when totals of 150 were reached in three of the four matches that weren't curtailed by rain. It is fair to say that the pitch has undergone a complete change in character since then.

The transformation, according to the KCA secretary TC Mathew, was sparked by a pitch re-laying exercise. "We re-laid the wicket last year," Mathew tells ESPNcricinfo. "But after the IPL we had to prepare the square again as there was a crack on it. It normally takes one year for a wicket to settle down, and it should be alright by mid-2012."

Kochi's extreme weather and the nature of the soil used on the strip are also responsible for the pitch's volte-face. Kerala coach Biju Mathew explains: "The pitch was very good during the IPL, but I believe the BCCI's directive was to use only clay and not the local red soil while re-laying it. When the weather is sunny it cracks up very easily and in the monsoon rains it gets very damp as well. Hence, one ball stays up, the next one stays down, and batting is close to impossible."

Strikingly, there have been no murmurs of pitch-doctoring from Kerala's opponents. Wing Commander Deepak Bhaskar, the manager of the Services side that came so agonisingly close to winning in Kochi, believes that the current state of the track could not have been intentionally arrived at.

"It is naturally this way, there's something in the wicket itself because of the soil and climate," Bhaskar tells ESPNcricinfo. "I had discussions with the curator when we were in Kochi, and he said they have tried several things to improve the binding, including mixing red sand into one of the practice pitches, but even that cracked up. Normally, [if the home association is trying to manipulate the pitch] one of the strips on the square will stand out for its unusual nature, be it up and down, or grassy. But here, all the pitches - even the practice strips - share the same characteristics."

In a lighter vein, Biju Mathew points out that once a batsman bats on this pitch, he becomes ready to play in any conditions. "[Tripura batsman] Vinayak Samant has played 100 first-class matches, but he scored his first double-century only now, after playing in Kochi. Similarly, Services opener Pratik Desai promptly scored 200 immediately after batting here."

Kerala have no more league fixtures in Kochi, and Mathew looks forward to playing the next round on a "normal wicket" in Tellicherry. But, given the chance, will he want to return to Kochi in the knock-out stages?

"Definitely," is Mathew's quick and emphatic response. "For all the pitch problems, Kochi has been lucky for us. Besides, when you play a superior opponent, it is always better to have unpredictability on your side!"

Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by VICKY62 on (December 5, 2011, 15:14 GMT)

So,that is the latest; to ' lend spark' to the tournament,you provide substandard surfaces where the batsmen have to go 'mining' to get to the ball. If the pitches at Kochi were not a product of doctoring, they were definitely one of bumbling incompetence. How does cricket in general -and Kerala cricket in particular-benefit from playing on such wickets? And it has to be remembered that the Kerala lads were sent to SOUTH AFRICA in preparation for these matches!

I never imagined I would live to see the day when CRICINFO lauded such incompetence, just because these pitches produced some close finishes; in that case, I can recommend plenty of paddy fields all over Kerala (anyway, agriculture is no more the Kerala cup of tea), which could produce much more exciting finishes.

Posted by kingcobra85 on (December 5, 2011, 13:53 GMT)

Well done kerala...Cricket doing well in a football dominated state

Posted by anoopshameed on (December 4, 2011, 13:20 GMT)

Wouldn't be a bad idea to make bowling paradises for Ranji Matches-afterall these are 4 day matches. Will increase the chance of a result and bring out the really talented players into the limelight! Also might get the crowd interest going-nobody usually go to the Ranji matches to see run fests. Make it something like the Gladiators ring or the bullfight ring-put the batsman in and see how long he survives!

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Nitin Sundar Social media manager Nitin spent his formative years perfecting the art of landing the googly, before blossoming into a book-cricket specialist. More excellence followed in the underarm version of the game before, like the majority of India's misguided youth, he started taking studies seriously. After four forgettable years of electrical engineering, followed by a rigorous MBA and 16 months in the strategy consulting industry, he began to ponder life's more profound issues. Such as the angle made by Brian Lara's bat with the horizontal at the peak of his back-lift. A move to ESPNcricinfo followed and Nitin is now a prolific nurdler in office cricket, with a questionable technique against the short ball.
Tournament Results
Maharashtra v H. Pradesh at Pune - Dec 21-24, 2011
Match drawn
Vidarbha v Hyderabad at Nagpur - Dec 21-24, 2011
Match drawn (Hyderabad won the faster scoring rate)
Andhra v Vidarbha at Cuddapah - Dec 6-9, 2011
Match drawn
Assam v Maharashtra at Guwahati - Dec 6-9, 2011
Maharashtra won by 7 wickets
Hyderabad v J + K at Hyderabad (Deccan) - Dec 6-9, 2011
Match drawn
Jharkhand v Goa at Jamshedpur - Dec 6-9, 2011
Jharkhand won by 45 runs
Kerala v H. Pradesh at Kannur - Dec 6-9, 2011
Match drawn
Tripura v Services at Agartala - Dec 6-9, 2011
Services won by 6 wickets
More results »
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