THE PROTEAS are back in Nagpur, and it’s like they never left. For, three months after they succumbed to the twists and turns at the centre of the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium, the Jamtha wicket is still making headlines. And pitch trouble is back to haunt the South Africans as they prepare to face the West Indies in a must-win World T20 encounter on Friday. This time around, with two days to go, they aren’t quite sure which surface they will get to face the mighty men from the Caribbean. In what has now become a trend with every match in Nagpur, it’s the 22-yards in the centre that are making headlines, and this time from the build-up stage itself. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
On Wednesday, the South Africans arrived at the ground for their practice session only to find the pitch adjoining the one that has seen all the action in the World T20 so far covered with a red carpet. The previous day had witnessed a lot of attention being paid to by the ground-staff to the original surface, which had been watered, covered, and then rolled with some sawdust sprinkled on top.
And it is learnt that the ICC have stepped in with their pitch consultant, Andy Atkinson-who arrived in the city on Sunday-deciding to shift the remaining two matches at this venue, including the West Indies-Afghanistan clash, away from the controversial pitch that came under extreme scrutiny for assisting turn from very early on when India lost to New Zealand last week. Atkinson is also expected to take over the supervision of the new pitch, and among his first demands are for a light grass-cover.
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“Andy arrived on Sunday, and there’s been a lot of talk about the pitch and how it’s played so far in the tournament. I understand a pitch that turns square for a Test against South Africa but how can they give similar conditions for a T20 match and that too in a world event?” said a VCA official.
The local curators, however, were keen on hosting all of Nagpur’s World T20 matches on the same pitch that they had been, but will now have no choice but to comply with Atkinson’s view. But it was that same pitch where the Kiwi spinners led by Mitchell Santner held sway eventually handing India a humiliating defeat. There was extreme turn on offer from the very first over of the match, with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja turning the ball square.
Many including Brian Lara had lamented about the slow and low pitch. The former West Indian great had tweeted, ‘A bit disappointed with the pitch for the 1st match of the Super 10’. Thereafter, even the Australian women’s team are understood to have expressed their dissatisfaction with the pitch after their loss to their Kiwi counterparts on Monday.
The South Africans don’t need a reminder though. They are all too familiar with the notoriety of the Jamtha pitch, having had to endure a painful and humiliating Test defeat here in November that ended in less than three days.
Then too, a number of experts from around the world had expressed their disgust over the pitch served up for a Test match in what was expected to be an even series. To the extent that even the ICC had handed an official warning to the Nagpur pitch, rating it ‘poor’.
It’s natural that the South Africans would have arrived in Nagpur with a sense of trepidation though they aren’t ready to show it quite. Imran Tahir was asked repeatedly about whether the memories of that traumatic Test, which ended in two-and-a-half days, still haunt his team. But he was quick to dismiss it saying, “That was a Test this is T20.
They are different formats.” The common feeling in the Protea camp though is that the pitch will turn, and that they should be prepared for it. With JP Duminy out with a hamstring injury, it only makes Tahir’s role that much more crucial considering that South Africa are in a must-win situation.
Unfortunately for the Proteas, they couldn’t quite get a look at what lay beneath the red carpet, but the ground-staff did unveil it later in the day around the time Clive Lloyd-here in the capacity of West Indies chief selector-sauntered to the middle. And there was a greenish tinge on it. The ground-staff then used a light roller on it, and are hoping that the grass binds the surface together and makes it a batting-friendly wicket.
It was a steaming hot day in Nagpur. The kind of day where, forget a sidewalk, you could fry an egg on the back of your head. With temperatures touching 40 degrees, everyone including the players from both teams tried their best to find the most shaded parts at Jamtha. But the local curators aren’t too chuffed about having their arms twisted, and put the dryness and crumbliness to the climatic conditions. You could also sense a tone of victimisation as they lamented about what in their opinion is incessant condemnation.
“We only prepare pitches keeping in mind a 60-40 advantage for batsmen. But people will complain anyway. In the last match, it’s Australia’s fault. How could they choose to bat on at twilight time when sighting the ball can be a problem? And then they blame us. See New Zealand played so well on that same pitch. See the effect the heat is having on living things. Imagine how bad it must be on the non-living thing in the centre,” a ground staff says almost wanting you to feel bad or if not empathize with the 22-yards.