A very poor wicket - Uthappa
When 18 wickets fall on the first day of a four-day game, the focus falls on the pitch - and there it stays if that match happens to be a Ranji Trophy semi-final. The track at the Reliance Stadium in Vadodara saw some deliveries taking off sharply from a length, bouncers leaving dents on the pitch, and vicious turn right from the first ball bowled by the spinners, and sparked some strong criticism from the players.
"I think it's a very poor wicket," Robin Uthappa, the Karnataka opener, told ESPNcricinfo. "Forget bouncers, even good length deliveries were making indentations on the surface."
Uthappa was unambiguous in his assessment. "Frankly, when you play in the semi-finals of such a premier tournament like the Ranji Trophy, you want it to be played on a much better surface, not one that makes it in to a lottery. I faced the first delivery of the match, and the moment I marked my guard in the morning, I felt we were in for an interesting day as the dust came off the surface. The mud was flying from where the balls were pitching." Uthappa went to the third ball of spin in the game, edging a sharp turner from Bhargav Bhatt to slip.
"Many of us are trying to push for spots in the Indian team, and we certainly didn't expect this kind of wicket. I can understand when a side wants to make an under-prepared pitch in the league stages if they have to win, but come on, this is the semi-final."
It wasn't the pitch that consumed all the batsmen though, many of whom brought about their own demise by letting the surface prey on to their minds. "I won't say this is the best of tracks. In fact, it has played worse than what we expected. But it is one on which you need to apply yourself," Mukesh Narula, the Baroda coach said. "It is the semi-final of a premier tournament and even we would not like to play it on a rank bad wicket. But if you see, not one of Karnataka's wickets fell because of the pitch. And even for us, apart from [Ambati] Rayudu, who got one that jumped, one cannot blame the pitch for the rest of the wickets. Connor [Williams] went outside the off stump, Jaykishan [Kolsawala] tried to force a delivery, Kedar [Devdhar] played a length ball on the back foot and Swapnil [Singh] did not go near the ball. We are a young side, and the pressure told on us."
Narula felt Pinal Shah's positive unbeaten 72 was the right approach on this pitch. "Pinal has shown us the way. The moment we had a partnership going, it was looking totally different. It's all playing in the minds of the batsmen right now. And frankly, I think the pitch cannot worsen now. If we can add another 50 runs, it will be a big lead, and they will be under pressure."
Sanath Kumar, the Karnataka coach, agreed to an extent with Narula, but felt the wicket was definitely under-prepared. "It is very dry and has not been watered properly. But they are playing at home, and are within their rights to prepare whatever they think suits their strengths. They know the strength of our attack, and have taken the risk with such a wicket, and it has worked for them, so far at least."
Sanath felt his batsmen did not apply themselves, and his bowlers got carried away with the assistance on offer. "Yes, we batted badly, and will have to do much better in the second innings. The wicket is doing things, but you have to bowl in the right areas. After we got a few wickets, we relaxed and gave away the runs, and let it slip from there. But we have to pull up, and a total of 170 could prove difficult to chase on this wicket."
Fast bowler Murtuja Vahora, who took the most wickets on the day, felt there was not as much help on offer compared to the Moti Bagh wicket. "At that ground, it swings a lot because of the wind. Here, though it did move around a bit in the first hour, you have to be really disciplined with your lengths. Bowl it full, and you will be taken for runs. Bowl it short, and it sits up on the batsmen. Maybe the bouncer can be used as a surprise delivery, but generally, good length is the way to go here. In my opinion, it is a good wicket." Try telling that to the 18 batsmen who fell today.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo