Pitch study: BCCI chief curator Daljit spells out specifics

Daljit Singh emphasises that there is strict monitoring (of pitches) every season. A four-page form is filled by the umpires and match referees.

BCCI chief curator Daljit Singh revealed there are marks allotted for the pitch each day.   -  FILE PHOTO/AKHILESH KUMAR

 

“We don’t play only spinners, we play fast bowlers as well. We understand their contribution is also important...”

That was Virat Kohli in 2016, lauding his seamers after India had mauled England by 246 runs in the Visakhapatnam Test. Two years later, India's fast bowling reserve boasts a variety and depth which has been unheard of in recent years.

The likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav have emerged as weapons of choice for India while touring overseas with Shami and experienced campaigner Ishant Sharma spearheading a pace battery capable of picking up 20 wickets in a Test, at home and away.

"It didn't happen overnight," says BCCI chief curator Daljit Singh.

The Board had come in for criticism in the 2015-16 domestic season when nine matches were reported to have been played on doctored pitches. Saurashtra, for instance, had resorted to raging turners where left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja bagged six five-wicket hauls on the trot.

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To guard against such advertent lopsidedness, the concept of neutral curators — who would take charge of the work five days before the match — was introduced last season with the rider that the curators will be from the same zone so that they have the requisite knowledge of the soil.

“We got positive feedback during the last domestic season, so the board will continue with neutral curators in the upcoming 2018-19 Ranji Trophy, a move that ensured that there were no two-day finishes or rank turners,” Daljit says.

Striking the right balance

Rajkot hosted its second-ever Test when India squared off against West Indies last week, and while the contest ended under three days, the 5-7 mm grass on the first day might have been a familiar sight for the Indian quicks who had bowled on England wickets that reportedly had grass as tall as 9-12 mm.

India head coach Ravi Shastri and BCCI pitch curator Daljit Singh in a conversation at the team's training session in Rajkot last week.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

While moisture and grass on the first day is usually a norm in Test matches, it wears off as the game progresses. "For hardness and bounce, the depth of the grass is also important. We look for something (grass) that grows in our country," Daljit explains.

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The idea, he points out, is "to make the wicket seamer friendly on the first two days, with the spinners coming into play on day three and four. Nothing unusual."

Elaborating further, he says "Indian pitches, in general, contain less smectite, which is best for pitches because of small particle size (0.001 microns) and large surface area. Pitches in Australia and South Africa have smectite in abundance. The clay is so light; it floats in water!"

With high profile tours to countries like Australia, England and South Africa around the corner, the team management's keenness to prepare the players to face fast bowlers on green tracks abroad is understood.

That said, the compensation — completely seaming pitches instead of rank turners — seemed to have gone too far before Anil Kumble, head of the BCCI technical committee at the time (2102-15), approached Daljit with a suggestion.

"Kumble pointed out that we had developed a good bench strength when it comes to seamers but our batsmen were struggling against spinners like Moeen Ali. That, sort of, triggered the transition to wickets (in India) where the ball would start spinning on the third and the fourth day" Daljit recalls.

Rewarding good work

As an incentive, the Board has started awarding one association in each zone for laying out the “best” pitch. Only the league games, not the knockouts, in the Ranji Trophy, are taken into consideration since all teams play the same number of league fixtures. The winners get Rs. 10 lakh each. Last year's winners were Mumbai (West), Karnataka (South), Chhatisgarh (Central), Bengal (East), and Punjab (North). The awards, however, are limited to only Ranji Trophy.

Daljit emphasises that "there is strict monitoring (of pitches) every season. We have devised a four-page form which is filled by the umpires and match referees.

"There are three marks for the pitch each day, a total of 12. No marks are given if the pitch is labelled poor. They can be rated average, good or very good.

"Then there are two marks for the outfield, two for miscellaneous factors and one for the square, a total of 17 out of which only the pitch scores vary over the course of the contest. The remaining five are frozen after the first day's play."

Helping both disciplines

These better playing surfaces have benefited not just the bowlers but the batsmen as well with Indian tailenders showing better fight than the previous years.

Daljit narrates an incident which helps put the transformation into perspective. "Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA) secretary Sanjay Jagdale once told me, "Daljit bhai, the (Indian) top-order is scoring 250 but the tail is getting out for 30 runs. Let's prepare wickets where everyone can play seam bowling.

"It's because of the efforts made to ensure that the lower-middle order can bat on pitches that aid seam, swing and bounce."

With the marathon Vijay Hazare season drawing to a close, the state associations will soon start gearing up for the Ranji Trophy. And Daljit assures that 'nothing is being left to chance' as far as preparation goes.

"Every match in the Ranji Trophy will be covered by a qualified, neutral curator. This will include the new members as well. The BCCI is spending a lot on improving playing conditions in the North East," he says.

"We've made rapid progress when it comes to making competitive wickets," Daljit says before adding "But we still have a long way to go."