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“IF ONLY I could roll up the Eden Gardens pitch and carry it wherever India plays.” Rohit Sharma has often said this while leaving the famous Kolkata venue where he averages 264.00 in ODIs and 87.00 in Tests. Other internationals cricketers, too, have spoken about wheeling their favourite 22-yard surface around the world.
But while this may still be a dream for the big stars, cricketers in Rajasthan are now closer to seeing that actually happen.
The Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) has imported 28 synthetic roll-out pitches from the UK to make quality wickets accessible in the remotest parts of the state. These portable pitches are similar to standard turf wickets, and the flexibility they provide has the potential to revolutionise the game at the grassroots level, say RCA officials.
“Rajasthan has 33 districts, of which only six or seven have turf wickets (standard cricket pitches prepared by groundsmen),” said Sumendra Tiwary, honorary secretary, RCA, in between throwdowns on a portable wicket spread out in the association’s sprawling reception hall.
“At most other places, they play on cemented tracks or archaic matted surfaces. With these roll-out pitches, we are trying to take quality facilities to those parts where there were none before,” said Tiwary.
The synthetic turf is made of rubberised polymer, and mimics a true surface, says Pawan Goyal, treasurer, RCA. “There will be bounce if a fast bowler is willing to bend his back and there will be help for a spinner if he is willing to tweak because the surface, while not abrasive, is a bit rough,” said Goyal.
And all this, without the hassles of maintaining a natural wicket. “A turf wicket, on an average, costs Rs 6 lakh per annum. You need an experienced curator. When matches are not being played, it needs to be wrapped up in cotton wool. These artificial pitches have cost us Rs 1.8 lakh per piece — including the trolleys to carry them around — and they are sturdy enough to last five-six years with minimum maintenance,” said Tiwary.
Like a Lego toy, the portable pitch is constructed by interlocking 10x10cm pieces. They can be dismantled and reassembled with considerable ease, which makes replacements, in case of wear and tear in a particular area, easy and cost-effective.
“All you need is a level surface to lay the pitch — gravelly or grassy, soft or hard. Small holes on the surface mean it can be used in rains, too, without becoming slippery. On such pitches, 365 days of cricket is possible,” said Goyal, who saw such pitches at the ICC Academy in Dubai, a couple of years ago, when the idea to import them struck him.
In many parts of Rajasthan, rain is not so much of a threat to cricket as lack of water is. And that is where a synthetic pitch scores over natural turf.
“Imagine, you don’t need water to maintain the pitch. In Jaisalmer or Bikaner, a true surface would have been unheard of. Not anymore. A batsman coming from these districts will now feel at home when playing on a natural surface in Jaipur,” said Tiwary.
In mofussil India, cricket survives despite the absence of basic infrastructure. After his man-of-the-match performance in India’s 500th Test in Kanpur, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja had spoken about his experience. “We didn’t have well-prepared grounds and pitches, and those are the kind I’ve been brought up on, the kind where there were no groundsmen and we were just practicing. From my childhood to Under-17, Under-19, till now, I’ve played on turners or unprepared pitches,” he said.
Jaipur, the hub of cricket in Rajasthan, is a typical example of the vast gulf between a bonafide cricket centre and remote areas. There are various well-equipped academies in the city and its crown jewel, the swank Rajasthan Cricket Academy, has 36 well-prepared natural wickets — outdoors and indoors. It’s more than the rest of the state put together.
While this gap may not be bridged anytime soon, the synthetic turfs will certainly narrow it, one 10x10cm block at a time.