Pune Test: Curator Salgaoncar promises pitch suspense

The Gahunje track in Pune has conventionally aided pacers more than the spinners.

India head coach Anil Kumble (right) in discussion with Daljit Singh (middle), chief of BCCI's pitch and ground committee and curator Pandurang Salgaocar in Pune, during a training session ahead of first test match between India and Australia.   -  K. Murali Kumar

In the 1970s, at his peak, he was considered to be the fastest bowler India had ever produced. If there ever was a list of cricketers who should have, but never played a Test for India, his name would always feature in the top rung. More than four decades later, as Pune is on the cusp of hosting its maiden Test match, Pandurang Salgaoncar is as excited as a soon-to-be-debutant.

“Indeed, I am excited,” says Salgaoncar, the pitch curator at the Maharashtra Cricket Association stadium, with a wide smile. “Finally I am going to be a part of a Test match. As a curator, it gives me even more reason to be proud about. After all, tell me how many former cricketers are actually involved in cricket on a daily basis?”

At 67, Sangaoncar — who was described as the quickest bowler he ever faced by legendary Sunil Gavaskar — continues to be as in-your-face as he has been renowned to be. The closest he came to the India cap, he says, was during the “unofficial” Test in Ceylon in 1974 and the trial matches ahead of the inaugural World Cup the following year.

“I should have played Test cricket but the Nawab (M.A.K. Pataudi) preferred Abid Ali instead because he liked him. But I am happy with what I have achieved and how I have contributed even after retiring from the game.”

Over the last decade, Salgaoncar has worked as Maharashtra’s chief selector and team manager before taking over as the pitch curator ever since the stadium in Gahunje hosted its maiden first-class game more than five years ago.

Pitch suspense

Asked if he has received any message from the team management on the nature of the strip for the opening Test against Australia, he beams: “Nobody can pass any message to me about my job.” The reality, however, appears to be slightly different. The Gahunje track has conventionally aided pacers more than the spinners.

But Daljit Singh, the chief of BCCI’s pitch and ground committee, joined Salgaoncar and BCCI’s west zone curator Dhiraj Parsana to oversee the preparation of the pitch. The pitch appeared to be hard in the middle but could well be dry at fuller lengths for spinners at either ends. Even the MCA insiders reveal that the nature of the wicket has changed drastically ever since India started training at the stadium on Sunday.

Despite doubts over the nature of the pitch, Salgaoncar oozes confidence of the match going the distance. “I am confident it will be a five-day game,” he says. Irrespective of the result, Salgaoncar will surely have a memorable debut!