There is a saying in the Mumbai dressing room about the nature of the pitch at Rajkot. ‘Don’t be fooled by how it looks, it’s just coriander (dhaniya) sprinkled on top to hide the real danger underneath’. It would look good to the naked eye, sometimes some green can also be seen, but it is just loose grass on the surface. Soon dents would mushroom, the pitch would play slow and the ball start keeping low, and turn later.
Bengal coach Arun Lal was left fuming about the playing surface at stumps on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy final. “Poor” was his go-to word on several occasions, “disgrace” too popped up in his ire. The pitch looked flat initially but as the day progressed, it started to wither and produce low bounce.
Rajkot curators can produce all types of tracks: a complete batting paata, a rank turner, or something like the one they have served up for the final – a slow, low strip that rewards bowlers’ patience when they keep it fairly straight, and help turn later.
This is what Lal said: “Very poor, it’s a very poor wicket. The board has to look into it, this is very poor. The ball is not coming up, this is not good for cricket. The ball is not getting off the thing, it’s dusting the first day.
“It’s not necessary to have the final at a neutral venue but the board has neutral curators and should look into it. Send your curators 15 days before, even the [neutral] curator has not done a good job. It would be a disgrace if the ball starts rolling through on the third day.”’
The people who have worked on the pitch offer a couple of reasons for the state of the surface. Firstly, a lack of preparation time after the semifinal between Saurashtra and Gujarat ended on March 4. With the final starting on the 9, they just had four days. The final is being played on a fresh pitch of the square but because of the semifinal, they couldn’t work on it. There was a neutral pitch curator from Karnataka but having the semifinal at the same venue wasn’t conducive to the preparation.
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Secondly, they didn’t water the pitch the last two days, this newspaper has learnt. They watered it on the first two days after the semifinal, and let it breathe on the two days leading up to the title clash. Experts reckon that lack of sufficient watering was probably to ensure that cracks open up soon – the home association exercising home advantage.
Rajkot pitch alchemists also have history, that probably has also led to a few tongues wagging. Some in the know talk about curators not exactly remaining “neutral” in the past. Not that pitch-tweaking is restricted to Saurashtra; most associations around the country do it. As do national teams.
Saurashtra curators in the past have been quite efficient tweakers. Stories have been told about how they can alter just a specific part of the pitch – a rough patch that would develop on a good length – to suit the likes of Ravindra Jadeja or whoever was their main spinner in games. Three years back, a local curator had explained the methodology. The trick is pretty simple. Water the pitch on good-length areas, let it soak in to 2mm depth, and just wait for the potion to do its bit. Those areas go softer in a couple of days and an odd boot pressed on it on the first day would dent it enough to produce decent rough for their bowlers to aim at.
It would be interesting to see how the track continues to play in the final. Saurashtra would wish to get 350 if possible, and squeeze in the pressure on Bengal.
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