Analysis

Explainer - what's wrong with the T20 World Cup pitches in New York?

The drop-in pitches at the venue haven't produced ideal T20 cricket, and the relentless schedule of eight matches in ten days isn't helping

Nagraj Gollapudi
08-Jun-2024
It has been an inauspicious international debut for the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, an ambitious project that the ICC pulled off in five months, putting it in place to host eight matches at the T20 World Cup 2024. Variable - and at times dangerous - bounce has been a feature; no team crossed 100 in the first two matches at the venue; and the focus has been on the drop-in pitches that everyone feels, and the ICC agrees, have not been ideal for T20 cricket.
So why did the ICC decide to deploy these pitches in New York? What's the reason for the uneven bounce? How are the curators trying to remedy the problem? These and other questions have been addressed below.

First, what is a drop-in pitch?

A drop-in pitch is the same as a normal 22-yard cricket strip, but is prepared and kept encased in a steel tray and not developed at the ground, as is traditional. It is prepared in favourable conditions - it can be outside the ground or at a turf farm - and comprises layers of soil, clay and grass that are bedded in together for a period of time. Once it is "dropped in" on the main square, the pitch gets the same care as a traditional pitch. This includes rolling, watering, and cutting the grass before match days.

Why were drop-in pitches chosen for New York?

While the ICC had cast the net wide to identify the right big venue for the World Cup in 2021, it was only in September 2023 that the Nassau County venue, located in Eisenhower Park in Long Island, was finalised. Mindful of the tight timeline, the ICC decided on drop-in pitches as a turnkey solution. Accordingly, ten drop-in pitches - four for the main ground and six for the practice facility in Cantiague Park, a few miles from the main venue - were used.
The original trays were prepared in Adelaide by Adelaide Turf International, which also oversees the preparation of the drop-in pitches at Adelaide Oval. The trays were shipped in December 2023 to Florida because it is sunnier and warmer there compared to New York, which has freezing temperatures from December to March. The pitches were then moved to New York at the end of April before being fixed in the main square and practice venue in early May.

Is it usual for international cricket to be played on a drop-in pitch before any trial games?

Usually, a fresh, relaid pitch at a stadium's main square will be tested with several practice matches and even domestic games before international cricket is played on it.
In the case of the New York project, the organisers had to raise the entire venue from scratch in just 106 days between January and May before South Africa played Sri Lanka on June 3. Two days prior to that, Bangladesh and India played a warm-up match at the venue - it was the first proper match there.

What is the nature of the drop-in pitches at Eisenhower Park?

Damian Hough, the head curator at Adelaide Oval, who made the drop-in pitches for the New York project, explained that strips usually need high clay content to facilitate good pace and bounce. In this case, for the soil, Hough used the local American variety of soil called BlackStick, which has a clay content of over 60% [considered high], similar to the Adelaide Oval. Bermuda grass has been used both for the pitch and the outfield, which is commonly used for cricket grounds.

Was there an ICC inspection before the venue got the go-ahead?

As part of its protocol, the ICC sends an expert team to carry out due diligence at all their venues - including the ground itself, the pitches and practice facilities - before granting them international status. While there was no formal announcement of the New York venue getting international status, on May 15, the ICC launched the stadium for the World Cup.

Is the scheduling an issue?

Yes. Eight of the 16 World Cup matches of the USA leg of the T20 World Cup were allotted to New York, and these have been scheduled across ten days between June 3 and 12, with the last six matches - including the marquee game between India and Pakistan on June 9 - on consecutive days. Such a schedule is unprecedented at an ICC event. This has been the biggest challenge for Hough and his team, because it is not just one pitch, but the entire square comprising all four strips that need attention at all times.

How many pitches have been used so far?

Three*. Pitch No. 4 has been used for three matches so far: Bangladesh vs India warm-up (June 1), India vs Ireland (June 5) and Canada vs Ireland (June 7). Pitch No. 1 was used for the South Africa vs Sri Lanka game on June 3. Pitch No. 2 was used for the Netherlands vs South Africa game on June 8. Pitch No. 2 was a more true pitch than the others, but fast bowlers still had a bigger say.

Has the ICC identified any factor(s) contributing to the variable bounce?

ESPNcricinfo has learned that Hough had spotted lines of grass sprouting in the cracks in some spots on the pitch, which he suspected could have contributed to the uneven bounce that frequently caused distress to batters in the South Africa vs Sri Lanka and India vs Ireland matches. Another contributing factor was the overcast conditions - the moisture played a role in the exaggerated sideways movement, and the swing the fast men generated.

Was any remedial work carried out?

It is understood that ahead of the Canada vs Ireland match on Friday, Hough covered the areas where grass shoots were growing under the cracks with topsoil and rolled it to make the surface much flatter.

Did it make a difference?

On Friday, while the odd ball did keep low, the surface was much truer, albeit a bit sluggish as a consequence of overnight rain. Ireland captain Paul Stirling pointed out that the pitch looked totally different to the one used for the India match, with much of the greenish tinge wiped away.
*The story has been updated after the Netherlands vs South Africa match on June 8

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo