Delhi v Victoria, Champions League, Group D, Delhi October 9, 2009

The curious case of the 22 yards

The newly-laid track at Feroz Shah Kotla is less than six months old with fresh soil brought from abroad and the grass yet to spread evenly along the 22 yards. All this makes it difficult for the ball to bounce higher than your hips while rising mostly to the level between the knee and shin, thereby making life agonising for the batsmen. Yet in truth, Victoria, the foreigners, romped home with such aplomb, it almost didn't matter.

For this to happen in Twenty20 cricket, usually the batsman's fiefdom, is unimaginable. Yet the pitch at the Kotla was the talking point today in both the games. A good statistic that could shed light on the matter: of the 26 wickets to fall on the day, half were clean bowled.

"I don't know how bad a wicket it is, but it is not an ideal wicket for a Twenty20 game because you just don't have a chance to come back," Gautam Gambhir, leading the Delhi Dardevils for the first time, said. That he didn't lay the blame entirely on the low and slow nature of the pitch was a just thing to do. That was only because the opposition batsmen adapted much better to the challenging conditions.

Victorian left-hander Rob Quiney followed in the footsteps of fellow countryman Simon Katich, who had proved a few hours earlier that the best way to score on such a difficult pitch was to play the waiting game. The formula worked wonders and Quiney top scored with 40. Quiney didn't go into a shell though, playing some handsome drives including three sixes, as he took full toll of the bad deliveries, which came as gold dust in such a low-scoring affair.

Having witnessed the Eagles disintegrate against the formidable New South Wales, Delhi had a clear idea about the dos and don'ts. Yet their batsmen played with an urgency that was misplaced. Though Gambhir denied that his batsmen played with doubt in their minds, the reality was, barring Gambhir and Sehwag, the Delhi batsmen lost their wickets to cross-batted heaves and pulls. They played as if they had to slay the demons in the pitch.

The trouble was those demons were in their minds. In contrast, Quiney, and Katich earlier, showed more composure to pick the right balls, and the wide gaps, to make progress.

"It wasn't that bad," Cameron White, Victoria's captain said. "It was little bit slow and kept down but we knew we had to adapt to such conditions when we came here and we did that today."

Gambhir said Delhi fell short of the par total of 140-145, which New South Wales had successfully managed to achieve earlier in the afternoon. He felt the best remedy for playing on such a pitch was to set a realistic target and bat towards that. Fair enough, but he would agree that the batsmen in the subcontinent are a pampered lot, spoiled by the benign surfaces on offer.

For decades, batsmen from the subcontinent have become adept at prospering on the flat pitches and have always found it difficult to recalibrate their games, which could be looked at as a down point. Delhi's collective failure today highlights that negative amply.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo