“At Bangalore, I sometimes challenge the batsmen to hit a four instead of a six! As it’s easier to hit a six in Bangalore stadium,” Yuzvendra Chahal says in half-jest about the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. During match four of the IPL 9 three years ago, Chinnaswamy became the first venue of the T20 league to witness 650-plus sixes. Last year, as Chennai Super Kings chased down 205 against Royal Challenges Bangalore, Chinnaswamy had a record 33 maximums hit in an IPL game. RCB had 16 hits over the fence, and CSK bettered it by hammering 17.
It is at the six-hitting haven of the Chinnaswamy Stadium that Virat Kohli’s team will try to salvage the two-match T20 series after the last-ball defeat to Australia in Visakhapatnam.
It’s not a large stadium but not that small either, with the side boundaries measuring 70-71 metres. Why then does the white ball fly?
Robin Uthappa, a batsman who grew up in Bangalore, reckons it’s a combination of two factors: the altitude (nearly 900 metres above sea level) and the black soil used in the pitch.
“It’s nearly 900 metres above sea level, like Johannesburg for example,” Uthappa tells The Indian Express. “What it means is when you hit the ball in the air, it stays hit – it takes a long time to come back! It also has an interesting effect on the psyche – you know if you hit it decently, it’s going to go, and as a batsman that somehow makes you go for shots more for balls you might not try elsewhere.”
Then there is the soil composition. How does black soil help? “The thing with black soil is it remains a great batting track for a short while. As black-soil pitches hold up nicely for a day. It might not be great for a Ranji Trophy (game) or Test where as the days go, hitting the ball might not be as easy in Bangalore. But these T20 games or ODIs are just for a day. That helps,” Uthappa explains.
Jaydev Unadkat, the Saurashtra captain who played recently in a Ranji Trophy semifinal at the venue, talks about the architecture of the stadium which creates an illusion in the minds of batsmen that the ground is smaller than it really is – and how that affects their psyche.
“I think it has something to do with the way the stadium is built. The seats start straight after the boundary, which makes it (playing area) look much smaller than it actually is. So it gives batsmen that added belief to hit the ball out of the park. That belief is the key to me,” Unadkat says.
R Vinay Kumar, who has been playing for Karnataka for nearly 15 years, echoes Uthappa’s views about altitude.
“The air is thinner and the ball travels far,” Vinay says. The other reason he reckons is the even bounce that the surface offers. “The Chinnaswamy pitch; especially with the white ball, the ball comes really well on to the bat with a good bounce. There’s no uneven bounce. It’s like even bounce throughout the match. It gives the batters the confidence to have a go from ball one. In that way, I think everything is tilted towards the batsmen at Chinnaswamy,” Vinay says.
According to Vinay, the key to success at this venue is to bowl the “Test-match length” and make early inroads.
“Everything here helps the batsmen. But the bowlers, too, can dominate, especially the fast bowlers. It happens very rarely, but it happens. If the bowlers keep it in good areas and look to bowl the Test-match length and get early wickets, then they can definitely put pressure on the batting side. From a bowling point of view, it’s imperative to make early inroads. Otherwise, if the batters start to dominate, then it becomes even more difficult,” Vinay says.
“T20 is all about the first six overs, and the batters nowadays start to go from the very first over. If they hit two fours or a six in the first three balls, given this venue’s reputation as a batsman’s paradise, it affects the mindset and the bowlers start doing things that they are not used to doing. With the new ball, you need to hit the right areas and bowl the Test-match length consistently, looking for caught-behinds, LBWs or bowled… Under pressure, the bowlers tend to forget that and go for yorkers, short balls and slower deliveries… Normally this is the mistake they do.”
Ex-India seamer Venkatesh Prasad tells how Chinnaswamy leaves the bowlers with very little margin for error. “The pitch is a beauty to bat (on). The ball always tends to come on to the bat irrespective of movement. So the margin of error for the bowlers is very minimal. All these (factors) give the batsmen a psychological edge. They trust the bounce and swing,” Prasad says.
About a couple of seasons back, when the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) had re-laid the ground, the Chinnaswamy pitch suddenly became slower and lower. Teams struggled to post 150s in the IPL, notwithstanding the fact that the centre square had been untouched. According to a source, because of some issues with the Sub Air system – the vacuum underneath the surface that is connected to the drainage piping – the pitches retained extra moisture.
The state association worked on that and matters improved. KSCA secretary and former Karnataka cricketer Sudhakar Rao informs that a sporting pitch has been laid out for Wednesday’s game. “We have worked on this pitch for the last three months and it will be a good, sporting wicket. We have raised the centre strip by three-four inches, putting one more coat of soil. The curators did a fantastic job. I feel the team batting first will score 170-180,” Rao says.