Wet conditions allow no play on fourth day
Under bright sunshine and bracing breeze from the east, the Palam Air Force ground had no play on day four of the Ranji Trophy semi-final; there was also an element of uncertainity as to whether it would be possible to begin play on time on Sunday.
The fourth day was called off without a ball being bowled, at around 3:50pm, after umpires Subroto Das and Adrian Holdstock scheduled numerous inspections of the pitch that had been completely soaked by Friday's hailstorms and rainfall over Delhi.
So far only 143 overs have been held over the first four days of the semi-final, with a lot of play lost to bad light and rain. Mumbai, who won the toss and batted, scored 380 for 6 and with a day's play left, they would need the Services first innings to be completed for less than that on Sunday for the match to come to an end tomorrow. Should the Services first innings not be completed tomorrow either way, the match can go into an extra sixth day on Monday.
Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni said his team's approach on Sunday would depend on the time the match eventually got underway and the weather conditions at the start of play. There were he said for Mumbai, "potentially 196 overs" still left in the game, based on an ideal 90 overs each being bowled on Sunday and Monday, plus an extra 16 overs, eight from each of the two weather-affected days.
In this match though, the ideal has stayed away at an arms length, particularly on Saturday when the sun was blindingly bright enough well into the late afternoon. Given the quality of the light over the Palam Air Force ground today, play could have continued until 5pm, but the dampness of the pitch meant that an entire day went by without a ball being bowled. At the ground, the outfield has a sand base and the pitch is made of clay and has black soil in it that absorbs much greater moisture than the outfield does.
The match pitch is at the extreme right side of the cordoned-off playing square, and had three layers of cover along with six iron pipes laid across it. During the hailstorm and heavy winds all through Friday night and Saturday morning, the wind ripped out the clamps of the cover and sent the pipes rolling along. With the pitch covers blown off, the rain soaked into the match pitch. It has led to a situation with no cricket, despite no signs of fog or rain.
Services Sports Control Board secretary, Air Commodore Wing Commander M Baladitya said, "We had impressed upon the BCCI that they had the expertise and besides, we did not want to get into the money aspect of refurbishing the ground. We said if this ground developed it will be an asset for cricket."
The BCCI agreed to get involved in a project as it would have full control of it, starting with visits by the BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale, CAO Ratnakar Shetty and the issuing of tenders to chosen vendors along with the involvement of its pitch committee members like Sundaram and Daljit Singh. In June this year, the entire ground was excavated, fresh soil brought in to replace Palam's nutrient-deprived earth, and a machine using laser to develop a proper gradient between the playing square and boundary. The entire center square was relaid and a plant set up for water purification along with a mechanised irrigation system.
Baladitya said the paradox of bright sunshine and no play had taken place due to unprecedented rain. "We usually don't have a drainage problem here because water drains very quickly," he said. When a match wicket gets soaked though, what transpires is a peculiar state of events.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo