What's an ideal five-day pitch?

The ideal five-day pitch — help for the seamers at first, good for batting afterwards, and turn for the spinners later on — does not exist merely in the imagination, insists K. Sriram, the Karnataka State Cricket Association curator.

Groundmen at work at the Eden Gardens. “The Eden wicket ideally should be sporting as it has always been giving an equitable experience to both bowlers and batsmen," says Prabir Mukherjee, former curator of the Cricket Association of Bengal.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

Curators of the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, and the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai, and a former curator of the Eden Gardens in Kolkata voice their opinion on what according to them is the ideal Test wicket.

Moisture levels the key

The ideal five-day pitch — help for the seamers at first, good for batting afterwards, and turn for the spinners later on — does not exist merely in the imagination, insists K. Sriram, the Karnataka State Cricket Association curator. “Of course, it is possible to produce such a pitch. Why not?” he asks. “It all depends on the moisture levels. If there’s good moisture underneath, it helps seam bowlers on the first two days. Once the wicket dries up, it naturally takes turn. It can be prepared but it’s not a simple task. Typically, we begin preparation 10 days prior to a Test match. We try and maintain a certain minimum moisture level throughout that period.”

Nobody, though, can predict the behaviour of a pitch to a certainty, Sriram admits. “You cannot predict 100% how a wicket is going to behave but from experience, we can tell how much bounce and carry there will be,” he says.

The sort of pitch that a curator derives great satisfaction from is one that helps produce a good contest between bat and ball, according to Sriram. “The pitches we laid on against Mumbai (2014-15 Ranji Trophy semi-finals) and the Rest of India (2015 Irani Cup) last season at the Chinnaswamy Stadium were really good,” he recalls.

“On the first two days of the Irani Cup, seamers were taking wickets and the runs were coming. We got a result as well. In the other game, Mumbai got bundled out for 44 on the first day and subsequently it was a thrilling match that ended on the fourth day. I’m very happy with the quality of those wickets. The pitches in Hubli in 2013 (Karnataka vs. Punjab) and 2014 (Karnataka vs. J & K) were also good. There was good 3mm grass on it that helped the seamers. Also, batsmen who stayed at the wicket could get hundreds.”

‘Bounce should be good on all days’

K. Parthasarathy, a long time curator at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, provided a rare insight into what he believed was the preparation of a good wicket. “Ideally, the pitch should have seam movement and bounce on the first day, benefiting the pacemen. Then on day two and three, the surface should assist the batsmen in their strokeplay. On days four and five, the spinners should come into play. It’s crucial that on all days, the bounce should be good,” he said.

Parthasarathy cited the surface he prepared for India’s epic third and decisive Test of the 2001 series against Steve Waugh’s Australia at Chepauk as a case in point.

“That pitch had something for everyone, the batsmen, the pacemen and the spinners. And there was a result on the final session of the fifth day. It was a result-oriented wicket.”

On how he prepares a typical Chepauk pitch, Parthasarathy revealed, “First we lay two inches of river sand at the bottom. Above that, we have two layers of brick. In the gap between the layers of brick, we again have river sand. Above the bricks, we have red soil. Then there is grass on top.

“After the grass grows well, we mow the grass. On top of the grass, we lay one inch of clay. It’s called ‘top dressing.’”

He continued, “Then we allow the grass to grow again. We start rolling the grass with a 250-tonne roller before moving to a 500-tonner. Then when the grass grows to 8mm, we use a 110-tonne roller. Later, we cut the grass to 4-mm level. Then it is watered and rolled again before being trimmed to 2mm. Then the pitch is rolled again to make it hard.

“On the first day, there would be moisture on the pitch because of the grass. Then it will become drier. But the bounce will be good throughout. It will be a good cricketing wicket.”

‘Eden wicket sporting’

“The Eden Gardens wicket has changed over the years. It is one of the oldest cricket venues, not only in India but also in the World. It has undergone some alterations since the time I saw cricket matches in Eden. When I took over the ground on the request of the then CAB president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, before the Reliance World Cup in 1987, we prepared a proper wicket, bringing in good soil from the districts. The ground was previously done by the Public Works Department (PWD) and it was not in good shape,” says Prabir Mukherjee, former curator of Eden Gardens.

“We prepared a good sporting wicket and it earned the praise of almost everyone who played on it, be it the home side or the visitors. I had been the curator for almost three decades and saw the wicket changing a bit with the times, as we kept tending to it with occasional repairs, according to the need. We have always ensured that it remained the kind of wicket that offered assistance to everyone and ensured the players enjoyed playing on it.

“The Eden wicket ideally should be sporting as it has always been giving an equitable experience to both bowlers and batsmen. It really depends on the calibre of the bowler and the batsman to make the most of it.”

— Shreedutta Chidananda (Bangalore), S. Dinakar (Chennai) & Amitabha Das Sharma (Kolkata)