In 1981-82, Delhi had trumped Karnataka, chasing 705 in the final at Ferozeshah Kotla. The match went into the sixth day and only 18 wickets fell. Six centuries were scored. They had played it on a ‘Sitaram special’.
Sitaram, Kotla’s then head groundsman, had specialised in producing sleeping beauties. On that occasion, he had stretched the limit a little too far. It was an extreme case of over-preparing a cricket pitch. What we saw at Nagpur last week, presented the other extreme.
With N Srinivasan in charge of the BCCI, Jeff Crowe’s ‘temerity’ might have invoked an instant dismissal for the match referee. Shashank Manohar is likely to be more considerate despite the fact that his home association is in the firing line for preparing a “poor” pitch for the third Test of the ongoing series. A proper communication between the BCCI and the ICC is now expected. Over the last few days, the Indian team management had tried their best to play down the pitch factor. From Ravi Ashwin to Virat Kohli, everyone stonewalled. Team director Ravi Shastri went a step further in a recent interview with Cricinfo, saying that he didn’t mind three-day finishes in Test matches. Season ticket holders and official broadcasters are well within their rights to enquire about compensation; but more importantly, when a Test match pitch accounts for 40 scalps inside three days, then that’s not a good advertisement for the longer format. Yes, they had a three-day finish in the first-ever day/night Test at the Adelaide Oval as well. But the South Australian cricket authorities had micromanaged the surface after taking approval from both Australia and New Zealand cricket teams. They had left some extra bit of grass to preserve the pink ball. It was a landmark event which deserved special leeway.
The Nagpur pitch had been tailor-made to maximise the home advantage. But a line had to drawn, which was forgotten. The two teams played on a virtual minefield. It was an insult to cricket.
Delhi is a traditional Test venue and hopefully it will adhere to the basic principles of the game, requests/demands notwithstanding. Reports emerging from the DDCA suggest that the pitch is going to be a slow turner where spinners will come into play from Day 2 onwards. Fair enough. This is a dead rubber alright, but when two high-profile cricket teams face each other, you expect an even contest between bat and ball. Conditions so far have been very lopsided in favour of the slow bowlers in this series. Kotla’s challenge is to restore parity.