There was nothing unusual in R Ashwin taking the new ball in the World T20 fixture against Pakistan at Eden Gardens on Saturday. In fact, in home conditions, it followed the norm. Ashwin’s second ball was an off-break that pitched on the middle stump and squared up Sharjeel Khan. His final ball in that over went through the gate for a bye as Ahmed Shahzad offered forward defence. Both, batsman and the keeper were done in by the extra turn and bounce. As the match progressed, variable bounce came into play, making lives difficult for the batsmen. And from India’s point of view, playing such a high pressure game on an unpredictable strip was a high-risk affair; especially after the Jamtha drubbing against Mitchell Santner & Company.
Pitches had played beautifully in the previous two matches. Pakistan posted 201/5 against Bangladesh and won by 55 runs, while Sri Lanka had hunted down a victory target of 154 against Afghanistan with seven balls to spare.
Batsmen, spinners, quicks – everyone had something to play with. So, last night, when Sunil Gavaskar asked Sourav Ganguly about the ball turning square, the CAB president expressed his surprise. Even MS Dhoni admitted at the post-match press conference that he never expected so much turn as the top soil looked good.
Eden curator Sujan Mukherjee, however, said his apprehensions proved to be true. “As soon as the covers were removed, I knew the pitch would behave differently. The centre square, the whole ground to be precise, was under wraps for 13-14 hours because of rain. We had watered the pitch on the match eve and needed at least a couple of hours of sunshine for the top soil to be dry. We didn’t have that. As covers were taken off and rolling started, moisture from underneath came up, making the top surface a little damp. But we were helpless,” Mukherjee, a former Bengal Ranji cricketer who replaced the octogenarian Prabir Mukherjee in October last year, told The Indian Express.
Eden Gardens’ playing arena underwent an overhaul under his charge. The outfield was re-laid to increase the sand content through coring. The pitch had been partially re-laid. Black clay was used for new pitch preparations to ensure decent bounce. Dampness notwithstanding, fast bowlers enjoyed good carry last night. But did the state association miss a trick by not commissioning a Hover Cover that incorporates blowers? Mukherjee disagreed.
“Blowers can’t be a replacement for two hours of sunshine. Applying blowers would have changed nothing,” he contended.