Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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The first semi-final of the 2023 ODI World Cup, between India and New Zealand in Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon, will be played on a used pitch that has already staged two matches in the tournament.
ESPNcricinfo understands the semi-final was initially supposed to be played on Pitch 7, the central strip of the Wankhede Stadium's pitch block. Pitch 7 is a fresh surface that was not used in the league stage of the World Cup.
The change represents a late deviation from the pitch allocation devised before the World Cup. A source told ESPNcricinfo: "6-8-6-8-7 was the planned rotation at Wankhede. 6-8-6-8 is what has been used so far."
After the semi-final had begun, the ICC released a statement saying the change was not unusual. "Changes to planned pitch rotations are common towards the end of an event of this length, and has already happened a couple of times. This change was made on the recommendation of the venue curator in conjunction with our host. The ICC independent pitch consultant was apprised of the change and has no reason to believe the pitch won't play well."
According to the ICC's Playing Conditions for the World Cup, the relevant 'ground authority' is "responsible for the selection and preparation of the pitch" before any given match - in this case, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). The ICC also have an independent pitch consultant, Andy Atkinson, who works alongside local groundstaff.
The Daily Mail reported that Atkinson has become frustrated by changes to pre-agreed plans throughout the World Cup, and that he speculated in a leaked email whether the pitch for the final in Ahmedabad on Sunday "will be the first ever ICC CWC final to have a pitch which has been specifically chosen and prepared to their stipulation at the request of the team management and/or the hierarchy of the home nation board."
Should India make the final in Ahmedabad, they would face either Australia or South Africa. Pat Cummins put his faith in the ICC to oversee the pitch process.
"Yeah, I saw that [the report]…obviously ICC have an independent pitch curator who manages that so I'm sure they are all over making sure it's fair for both teams," he said. "So far this tournament [on pitches] that we've played on I've not seen any issue."
There is no ICC requirement which states that knockout fixtures must be played on fresh pitches. The only stipulation in their Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process reads: "It is expected that venues that are allocated the responsibility of hosting a match will present the best possible pitch and outfield conditions for that match."
The semi-finals of the 2019 ODI World Cup, in England four years ago, were both played on fresh pitches at Old Trafford and Edgbaston. But last year, both T20 World Cup semi-finals were played on used pitches: one at Adelaide Oval, the other at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Both India and New Zealand players inspected the pitch at the Wankhede from close quarters on Tuesday evening before it was covered by groundstaff early during India's training session under floodlights.