ONE THING you can never accuse Daljit Singh of is not telling you exactly how a pitch he’s prepared will play. That is in his opinion anyway. The last time he hosted a bilateral international match at the IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali, the pitch had come in for severe criticism. In many ways, it also set the trend for a number of contentious pitches that the South African Test team had to encounter during their ill-fated tour late last year.
Very early in his routine discourse about ‘his’ 22-yards, Daljit reminds you that it’s an ODI that the stadium is preparing for on this occasion. Neither of the first two ODIs produced a single score of 250-plus. At Delhi, India failed to chase down a rather modest total—by modern standards—of 243. And Daljit is keen on producing or at least setting the stage for the first run-fest of the series, or so he says anyway. “We are trying to provide a good ODI wicket for this match. The pitch will favour batting and there will be normal bounce. Yes, it is still the start of the season here in North India but we had two practice matches during the JP Atray memorial tournament earlier this month,” he said.
Daljit, who is also the BCCI-appointed Pitches Committee chairman, revealed why he thought the ODI series hadn’t seen the batsmen dominate, which is normally the course of action in this part of the world, especially in the shorter formats. “Wickets are fresh at this time of the year and this will help both the sides. The first match saw New Zealand losing wickets early but we cannot blame the pitch. Had they batted with patience, they could have scored a par score. And the second match score was also a fighting total and it was a close match,” Singh told The Sunday Express.
In its early days, Mohali was considered the fastest pitch in the country, and more so for the bounce it provided for the fast bowlers. It’s a reputation that has waned off in recent years, but you just need to look at the last time the venue hosted an ODI to realize that a pacer still can pose some problems for the batsmen if he decides to bend his back. Fast bowlers have accounted for 25 wickets in the last three ODIs played here—which is nearly half of all the wickets that have fallen—and Mitchell Johnson had snared four Indian batsmen within the first 15 overs of their innings in 2013. That match saw the second straight occasion that a team had posted above 300 in the first innings, with India failing to chase down 303 against the Aussies.
But it’s natural that you come to last year’s Test wicket against the Proteas, and the fact that neither team managed to go past 201 in the four innings. Mohali also played host to three matches during the World T20, which saw scores over 150 in each game. “It’s different from Test matches and also T-20.
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When the World T-20 happened, it was almost the end of the season yet we saw a good totals being scored here and teams like Australia and Pakistan batted well and even in the India-Australia game, runs came. And the ODI wicket has to hold till 100 overs,” he explained. “Our aim is to provide the pitch as it is in the first over of the innings and as it is in the first over of the second innings. But conditions change in the evening. There is little dew at this time of the year,” the 70-year-old veteran added.
This will also be the first time Anil Kumble visits Mohali as the head coach of the Indian team. And Daljit starts beaming when he reminisces about the exploits of the former India captain on his beloved turf.
Kumble after all won two man-of-the-match awards in the four Tests he played at Mohali. “He enjoyed the bounce offered on the pitches here and even now wrist spinners can make the most of it,” said Singh.