Curators - Be the Cure, Not the Disease
‘Expectation’ is a huge word in life. ‘Expectation’ is a huge word in sport too. In a game like cricket, where the climate and the turf play a bigger role in the outcome than most other sports, ‘expectation’ becomes an even bigger word. That is the reason why curators need to realise they owe something to the game and to the audience – not just to the few thousands who dare the sun and sit in the stands for the love of Test match cricket, but also to the millions who are either glued to TV screens or multi-task with online commentary websites at office. Curators have a job to do; but with pitches like the one at Feroz Shah Kotla, the audience feels let down.
There is a reason why I used the word expectation to describe the pitch in Test cricket. It is a game that lasts 5 days. The game as we know it is loved for various reasons, one of them being the way it tests the entire spectrum of skills of both batsmen and the bowlers. That is exactly the reason why good Test match cricket is as much about a sporting pitch as it is about high class players. There is a very fine line that separates the terms sporting, lively and unplayable. The pitch, the 22 yards of brown sometimes tinted in green, sometimes in brown and sometimes parched and cracked, could not only cause emotional pain, but in some cases extreme physical pain too. The last thing I would want to see is Sachin forced to retire after getting his thumb broken by a Johnson peach that rears up like a rattle snake from good length.
Curators have a very delicate task to handle. Sure, captains make all kinds of demands and curators will be flayed for giving dead pitches. But that is the reason they get to own it. They get to call it their own – the coliseum, the arena. The pitch is expected to do certain things on Day 1 of the Test match and certain things on Day 5.
In recent times, I have witnessed cricket in three different countries, where the pitches have thoroughly disappointed me. In the first Test between New Zealand and England, played at Dunedin and the first Test played between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at Galle, the pitches could have been mistaken for runways where the 5th day pitch was behaving worse than a first day pitch should. On the contrary, the Feroz Shah Kotla pitch on was behaving like a pitch should on 4th or even the 5th day on the first day itself.
For Test cricket to survive, we need results. That is why the pitch at Sri Lanka is deplorable. It was a run fest, a day for records, a day of easy runs and a hard toil for bowlers. At the same time, we don’t need matches to get over by the morning of the 4th day. More importantly, we don’t need batsmen getting out due to the dread that they may get their helmet, elbow or fingers smashed by deliveries pitched on length or just short of it. There are a lot of things which go into the creation of a pitch – the amount of water needed, the amount of grass that should be shaved and the amount that should be left to hold the soil and the number of days before which the grass should be shaved to expose the pitch to the sun. In some cases, it depends on the climate at nights, where the pitch could start sweating.
It isn’t an easy job. It is the job that only skilled and experienced professionals can perform. Millions are at stake in every match these days. Careers are at stake. Reputation and pride is at stake too. Just like India would have felt betrayed by the pitch at Nagpur that didn’t give them a chance to draw the series with England, there is a good chance they will be undone by a broken pitch that pretty much levels the two bowling sides, in spite of the fact that India possesses a lot more quality in the spin department. Results apart, I am worried how the second and third day batting would turn out to be. One can only hope that the pitch seems uglier than it actually is. However, if the curators and administrators are watching, they should definitely know deep down that they didn’t give the players a safe surface to play on – a surface that can conjure good cricket, a surface that champions deserve. Its high time the curators took their task seriously and used their skills to make sure the surface is up to scratch. Sometimes, series, trophies and records don’t matter; it could be careers on the line too.