An Open Letter to the curators of Indian pitches
Dear Indian Curators,
First of all, I would like to thank you all for your contribution to Indian cricket. You people play a very important in running Indian cricket. For, you are responsible for the crucial 22-yards that become the centre of debate even before the first ball is bowled in the match.
More often than not you do the job that you are told to do i.e. prepare pitches that suit the Indian team. In other words, you are asked to prepare a spinner friendly wicket. But irrespective of the result, you are criticised by someone or the other.
At times I feel that an Indian pitch curator’s job is one of the most scrutinised jobs in the country. This is in spite of the fact that in reality you are not always are given a free hand to prepare the pitch that you want. And not only in India, but world over the home board often instructs the curators to prepare certain kinds of wickets.
But again, you are criticised more than your Australian or South-African counterpart who prepare a fast & bouncy wicket; because that’s considered a sporting wicket, unlike a spinner-friendly wicket. Also, if by chance you build the courage to prepare a green top in India, then you are criticised for not making a home-team friendly wicket. It is indeed a thankless job.
Take the case of the recently concluded Pune test match against Australia. You will be in news for some time until dust settles down. The home team has lost the match in less than three days on a pitch which was supposed to suit them more than the men from down under.
The knife will be on your neck as the cricketing intellectuals will tell you that you shouldn’t have prepared a pitch which started turning from day one. The same people don’t have problems with pitches which don’t turn even on day 5.
But was the Pune strip really unplayable? To put it in more legal terms, was the pitch unfit for playing as per Law 3.8 of the MCC? I would let Mitchell Starc’s scores of 61 & 30 in the two innings do the talking. Now if the number eight batsman of a team who are traditionally considered weak players of spin bowling can score close to 100 runs, the pitch definitely cannot be called as unplayable.
People may ask then why did India’s combined score in the two innings (105 & 107) failed to cross Australia’s single innings score. I found the answer to this question in Indian skipper Virat Kohli’s interview when he said, “We played bad cricket, and that's why we lost. That's how simply we look at this defeat.”
Talking about the pitch he said, “I don’t think it was any different from the turners that we played on in the past. We just didn’t play good cricket”.
Coach Anil Kumble had said at the end of day one that the Indian team had not adapted well to the surface. In my opinion, the Indian coach and skipper are spot on. Better application was expected from the Indian batsmen who are born & brought up on these turners.
This brings us to the broader question. Is there a need to panic? I would say certainly not. It was just one bad performance in a test. But as skipper Kohli said this was a much-needed reality check. In my opinion, such a reality check was due especially after the honeymoon home season that the current Indian team has enjoyed.
Along with the players, this reality check would do a world of good to you curators & your bosses who ask you to prepare certain kinds of wickets. The only problem that I have in pitches which favours a particular style of play is that over a period of time it builds a phoney world.
When the opposition team does not have quality spinners or batsmen equipped to handle the turning ball, you will come out winners on 9 out of 10 occasions. But the table turns when the opposition team starts giving you a fight, like it happened in the first test match at Pune. And the Aussies not only fought but they brought the Indians down to their knees.
Now as a curator, you can’t do much when your team loses 7 wickets for 11 runs in less than 9 overs. You know that you will be put under tremendous pressure to ensure that you come up with a wicket which ensures an Indian victory in the next test match. But what are the options that you have?
You can’t for sure prepare a fast wicket because that’s not what we do in India. Do you again go for a spin friendly track hoping that your team puts up a better show?
The safe option would be to go far a batting paradise which helps in getting back the confidence of the Indian batsmen. But will that not be too defensive for the number one test team in the world which is up against one of the weakest Australian teams to come to India in recent times?
I am sure you will get a lot of advice in the coming days. So, the only thing that I will say is that you should prepare a wicket which is capable of producing a result in five days. And as they say, “May the best team win”.
Indian Cricket’s Well-wisher