One can call Daljit Singh a pitch master. He has been designing pitches in India for close to three decades. Singh retired in 2019 after heading the BCCI Ground and Pitch Committee for 12 years but he still looks after the Punjab Cricket Association ground in Mohali.
With the pitch talk still brewing ahead of the fourth Test against England that starts in Ahmedabad on Thursday, the veteran had an advice for the players complaining about the spin-friendly strips on offer. "If you are earning crores and representing your country, you have to specialise in the profession," he told Sportstar in a telephonic interview.
Singh wants the batsmen to learn how to play spin in the Indian conditions even though the Motera wicket for the third Test did not meet his definition of a good surface. "A good five-day pitch means grass and moisture on day one, if you win the toss you need to bat first. Everybody wants to bat first to avoid batting in the fourth innings. But the first two hours would be tricky and you need technique and temperament to handle that. The grass and moisture would help the seamers and then, as it flattens, it can help the batters from second day onwards.
“There should be some spin on day four and five after the wear and tear. There should be some bounce also for the medium-pacers. Thoda up and down aayega ball. I have said this 100 times and there is nothing new about it," said the man who was part of BCCI's first pitch committee in 1997.
'Home advantage not wrong'
Singh seconded the former players who batted for spin-friendly wickets against SENA countries. "I am seeing it for so many years. Whenever there has been a series in India against SENA countries, spin-friendly pitches have been laid. And this is how it is going to be. There has been a lot of improvement in the way we prepare pitches with the equipment in place. Earlier, people would put stones underneath but everything goes over the roof when there is a Test series. Ek hi baat chahiye: home advantage pitch and that I feel is not wrong," he added.
READ: England captain Joe Root: Fourth Test pitch looks similar to last one
When Singh was learning the ropes, he would end up fighting with people. "Once, a former India captain had complained to the BCCI that I don’t listen to him and that I do things on my own and I keep grass on the pitch. Slowly as life went on, I realised every country does the same thing. But in the last two years, curators are not making pitches I feel. I don’t know who all are laying these pitches. You have to find that out.
"I had made a pitch report form of the BCCI. The ICC had seen it 10 years ago. They have made a copy of that only," said Singh.
How does a curator work
During a high-profile series in India, a curator's job is to do as directed. Singh sees it as "part of the system".
"If others are making you play at 15mm grass abroad. When they come here, they will have to learn to play spin. I remember I had once made a pitch for an India A game in Pune for which I faced a lot of criticism. India was all out 105 and 103 and lost the game by an innings and 200 runs. It also depends how a player operates and uses his skills. If in India, the wicket will spin anyway. You have to play well," he added.
Predictions for fourth Test
England ran out of gas after winning the first Test in Chennai. In the second and third Tests, their scores read: 134, 164, 112 and 81.
Singh, who was a fine wicketkeeper-batsman of his times, believes it will be easier to tackle spin with the red ball. "The pink ball had a problem. It gets dirty early. To keep it clean, there is more lacquer for visibility so that the paint is not dented. Lacquering makes a ball hard and when you play at night in the dew, the ball gets wet. Then the ball lies with the umpire in the dressing room for 18 hours before the day’s play. When that ball, especially the way the seam dries up in those many hours, it gets difficult for the batters the next day."
READ: Sidebottom all praise for India despite spin controversy
Singh highlighted Zak Crawley's dismissal which happened in the first ball of the second innings, courtesy Axar Patel who eventually ended up with 11 wickets in two innings. "Out of the 11 wickets Axar picked, most of them did not spin and were straighter deliveries. That was a simple and straight ball. Our U-16 boys play those deliveries everyday at the nets. But here, the pace was different for the heavy lacquer."
Before signing off, Singh reminded that there should not be any pressure on Indian match referee Javagal Srinath because the pitches have not injured players. "If players are not getting injured, you can’t stop the game but he can write in his report that it was perhaps ‘poor’. It depends what he writes."
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