Lack of proper planning seems to be the reason behind the sluggish pitch laid out for the second one-dayer at Cuttack. Orissa's state side completed their crucial Plate Group semi-final match just 10 days ago, giving the curator insufficient time to get the pitch ready for this clash - as was evident from the behaviour of the surface.
One can view it as choosing state over country - Orissa thrived on the pitch, especially with their seamers, and ended up qualifying for the Super League. Probir Mukherjee, the East zone representative for BCCI 's pitch and ground committee who oversaw the preparation of this surface, said it usually took three weeks to prepare a good track but he was given only 10 days. "We didn't get enough time," said Mukherjee. "I had told the Orissa Cricket Association that I would at least need three weeks but they had to play a semi-final game and it was very important match for them."
Spurning home advantage in the semi-final would have been detrimental to Orissa, looking to crawl out of the Plate group, and the preference probably resulted in the sluggish pitch for this game.
Chris Gayle, West Indies' captain, also stressed on the "difficult" nature of the track. "It wasn't the best wicket to play on. It was bit dusty, slow and the ball was popping up but in the end we had to play on it and India played well."
Mukherjee offered a few other reasons for the state of the track. "This is the winter, grass doesn't grow well," he said. "In India July to September is the best time to prepare the wicket. They had re-laid the whole track before the Ranji season. When I came down here, I did notice that the bounce was low but still if I was given more time, I could have prepared a more batting-friendly track."
Mukherjee also sought to kill speculation that the pitch had been tampered with to suit spin and favour India. "There was nothing, no instruction to rough up the track or make it spinner friendly. It was just that there was not enough time."
However, he felt that the conditions were not unplayable and blamed the Indian batsmen for playing some shots that didn't suit the track. "Look at Karthik, or even Dravid. They have judged the track well and are playing accordingly. Some of them were driving too loosely and also trying to play across the line."
Sachin Tendulkar drove loosely, Mahendra Singh Dhoni played across the line, Rahul Dravid played all around a full delivery while the likes of Joginder Sharma and Ramesh Powar perished trying to hit through the line. Dinesh Kartik and Rahul Dravid, although briefly, showed how to bat on this track. They adapted well to the slow and low pitch, played close to the body and very rarely drove loosely.
The popularity of one-day cricket is largely owing to the flat batting tracks. But the flip-side is that these pitches have tilted the balance too much in the batsmen's favour. After the Nagpur run-fest, Venkatesh Prasad, India's former opening bowler who's currently coaching Karnataka, expressed concerns about the trend. "It's nonsense if so many runs are scored on a pitch and people celebrate such a high-scoring match," he said. "Where is the scope to learn anything out of a match if it's one-sided only in the batsman's favour? If you don't the let the bowlers have a chance to decide the course of a match, they are left without any motivation to play. No one learns out of a high-scoring match, it's a waste."
So what is an ideal track? Surely, the one that gives an equal opportunity for both batsmen and the bowlers, something that this Cuttack pitch failed to provide. Many deliveries kept low, some held up, while a few reached the wicketkeeper on the second bounce. Turgid cricket doesn't do the game any good.