The final ODI between India and Sri Lanka on Sunday was abandoned after 23.3 overs after the match officials decided the pitch was of "extremely variable bounce and too dangerous for further play". The immediate fallout of the fiasco was the sacking of the BCCI's Grounds and Wickets Committee, followed by the resignation of their Delhi counterparts, but long-term repercussions could be far more serious: at stake is Delhi's status as a host of the 2011 World Cup, though the ICC has said it will follow the prescribed monitoring process before taking any decision.
The ICC's latest code of conduct regarding poor pitches states that a first such breach should be met with "a suspension of the venue's international status for a period of between 12 and 24 months together with a directive for appropriate remedial action and the need for prior ICC re-accreditation as an international venue".
On a Kotla pitch where the bounce - from similar lengths - varied from shin to shoulder in as short a spell as three deliveries, Sri Lanka had reason to be thankful that they got away with just two hits on the body that needed attention.
Incidentally, Sunil Gavaskar didn't seem too pleased with what he saw during his pitch report. He described the uneven sprinkling of grass on the pitch as a "hair transplant" with bald patches. When the ball hit the grassy areas it seamed and bounced, from the bald patches it died along the ground. What made it difficult for the batsmen was that the lengths from where the ball behaved so drastically different were not too far apart from each other. The moisture didn't help either.
Full of action, the 23.3 overs featured a wicket first ball; a dropped catch first ball of the second over; blows on the elbow, shoulder, fingers; frenzied running; thick edges flying past third man; and wickets for Zaheer Khan, the debutant Sudeep Tyagi and Harbhajan Singh. MS Dhoni, coming back from a two-match ban, was stupendous behind the stumps, getting his legs together for the shooters and intercepting the lifters without conceding a single bye.
Ashish Nehra could have got Tillakaratne Dilshan with the first ball he bowled, but Suresh Raina failed to hold on to a high catch at cover-point. Perhaps Dilshan would have rather that he got out then, going by the way he had to consistently drop his wrists out of the way of balls bouncing from just back of a length.
One such delivery from Nehra struck him just over the elbow guard. The way he came down, throwing his bat away immediately, it seemed a nasty blow. Dilshan got up, hit his first boundary off the 23rd ball faced, but couldn't last much longer. The ones staying low made it even tougher for him to negotiate the venomous ones.
Sanath Jayasuriya, 20 years and a day old in international cricket, fought it out despite blows on his elbow, shoulder and fingers. He played two exquisite cover-drives but was fortunate in coming back without a serious injury. In the third over of the innings, his elbow guard prevented severe damage when one lifted from just back of a length and followed him. Tyagi then showed him the vagaries of the bounce, hitting him in his shoulder in the 12th over. Four overs later, within three balls he had the batsman squatting and then nursing his finger.
At around 11.20am, one length delivery from Tyagi reared up to almost clear Dhoni's reach. The Sri Lankan batsmen had had enough by then. Kumar Sangakkara, dismissed already, and Mahela Jayawardene, out with a groin injury, were seen waving from outside the boundary and lengthy discussions ensued.
Even after the players went off, it took the authorities - the umpires, the match referee, the captains, and the home association representatives - an hour and 10 minutes of debate before they officially abandoned the game. "I'd like to commend the on-field umpires and captains for continuing as long as they did in the hope that the pitch may settle down," Alan Hurst, the match referee said. "Unfortunately, this did not happen. Before abandoning the match, consideration was given to shifting the match to a secondary pitch. However, it was deemed impractical as the secondary pitch was not adequately prepared."
The recent history of the Kotla track had done little to recommend its hosting of another international fixture. The curators, both at the ground and the BCCI's head of pitches committee Daljit Singh, have on more than one occasion said that this is a freshly relaid pitch that will take time to settle in. Despite that, the ground hosted the Champions League T20 on low and slow tracks, and an ODI between India and Australia in October. The BCCI will be left ruing the decision of having hosted two international matches on a dodgy pitch, within two months of each other.