Pune continues to produce lifeless pitches

Kedar Jadhav on his way to a triple-century against Uttar Pradesh Mihir Karkhanis

The first three days of Maharashtra's Ranji Trophy opener against Uttar Pradesh in Pune have seen 1051 runs scored for the loss of just seven wickets in 265 overs. There are times when statistics don't really reveal the whole story. But such numbers, heavily stacked in favour of the batsmen, precisely reflect the quality of the 22-yard strip at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium. As a result, despite the first three days witnessing a record triple hundred and three more three-digit scores, the national selectors - whose chief Sandeep Patil is watching the game closely since day one - will hardly be impressed with any of the batting performances.

It doesn't come as a surprise that the wicket at the newly-built stadium on the outskirts of Pune has offered a featherbed this time. After all, Pune has traditionally been home for paatas - benign, flat surfaces which offer no help to bowlers. Situated in the heart of Pune, the Nehru Stadium, the city's premier cricket venue till it hosted its last first-class game in 2005, was considered to be a bane for bowlers and a boon for batsmen.

This resulted in very few of the talented Maharashtra batsmen being awarded the Test cap. While Hrishikesh Kanitkar was among the few lucky ones, stalwarts like Milind Gunjal, Shrikant Kalyani (who moved to Bengal later), Shantanu Sugwekar and Surendra Bhave were unfortunately tagged as "flat-wicket specialists". Despite scoring big all over India, none of these prolific batsmen ended up becoming international cricketers.

When the Maharashtra Cricket Association completed the ambitious project of coming up with an ultramodern stadium, it was expected they would buck the trend of producing featherbeds. While last season's Ranji Plate Group knockouts and the Indian Premier League that followed showed the square was far from settled, the first game of this season has ended up denting the expectation in a big way.

The pitch had a tinge of live grass, even on the third day. But neither has it assisted seam movement nor has it offered bounce and spin. All that a decent batsman is required to do is to get his eye in and then score runs at will. So what really has gone wrong with the pitch?

"Since it's the first game of the season, we seem to have missed the trick somewhere. But the good thing is that it has got the batsmen going," said Bhave, Maharashtra's chairman of selectors, who himself is used to preparing wickets. "Going forward, once the team returns after playing three away games, by then we should ensure that instead of a featherbed, we end up offering a sporting wicket. I am confident that will happen."

While the batsmen keep on improving their records on such tracks, bowlers just seem to add blots to theirs. Imtiaz Ahmed, the star of UP's outright victory against a star-studded Delhi line-up last week, went wicketless this game in 41 overs, which cost him 190 runs. No wonder UP coach Venkatesh Prasad, the former India bowler, was more concerned about the nature of domestic pitches than his bowlers' performance.

"I don't really want to go too deep into the performance of the bowlers," Prasad had said after the end of the second day's play. "Yes, I agree they haven't bowled as well as they should have but this is not the wicket for the bowlers to be judged on.

"If a team is getting wickets like this, which is 70-30 in favour of the batsmen, then I think we are just killing the game and it is not good for the sport at all. But anyway, I would not like to decide on this pitch as of now since there are still two more days to go. I will be in a much better position to comment on the pitch, the opposition and our players by the end of the game."

Daljit Singh, the chairman of the BCCI's grounds & pitches committee, said the surface needed attention. "I am a little bit worried about the Pune strip that has produced 700-plus scores," he told PTI. "We need to have a proper look at the pitch.

"The BCCI's directive regarding the wicket that would be prepared for the Ranji Trophy is pretty clear. It should be a sporting wicket where a standard first-innings score should be in the region of 550-plus and it shouldn't start turning square from the first day itself."

If the board pulls up state associations for preparing underprepared wickets, it's high time it starts doing so with those who come up with paatas that have nothing in them for the bowlers.