Ranji Trophy: Inside the art and science of pitch making

According to chief curator Sunil Chauhan, for a pitch to be an all-round success, it has to be prepared with diligence and study.

In the ongoing Ranji Trophy match between Tamil Nadu and Himachal, batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners have all had a role to play in what has been a hide-and-seek contest between bat and ball.   -  akhilesh kumar

The picturesque mountains in the background, the invigorating air and the mild climate are reasons to enjoy cricket at the HPCA Stadium. But from a purely cricketing perspective, too, the venue is likeable.

The pitch has enjoyable bounce and pace and assists seam movement. In breezy conditions, there is swing, too. The outfield is quick, providing value to batsmen for their well-timed strokes.

In the ongoing Ranji Trophy match between Tamil Nadu and Himachal, batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners have all had a role to play in what has been a hide-and-seek contest between bat and ball.

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Like a detailed Indian thali, there is variety on offer; two strokeful centuries, numerous contrasting half-centuries, a batting collapse, a five-wicket haul, cluster of wickets in a session, as well as long, dry spells.

Diligence the key

According to Sunil Chauhan, the chief curator here, for a pitch to be an all-round success, it has to be prepared with diligence and study. “What is the use [of the pitch] if the fast bowlers aren’t provided with an advantage early in the game? It should be useful for batsmen, bowlers and fielders,” he tells Sportstar.

But how does the venue provide such bounce? He elaborates, “It starts with the selection of clay. We take soil samples and test them in laboratories. If the clay content is 50 [per cent] or above, it is suitable for a bouncy track.”

He adds, “Setting the three layers that form the pitch is very important in the process. The upper layer has about eight inches of clay, three inches above the level of the ground. Besides, excess water has to be drained away as well.”

Art and science

The second major component to incorporate is the grass. “We use a grass type called ‘Bermuda selection.’ There is usually 7 mm of grass in each pitch. Its transpiration is important for a pitch to be dry. No one can be an expert in grass selection, but it is very important for the pitch,” he says.

Watering has to be done expertly, too. “A four-inch portion of the pitch has to be wet. That has to be dried and made compact. And the cracks are important if one has to have good bounce. For, when air comes out from cracks, the pitch becomes compact,” he explains.

All this has to be done without tampering with the equilibrium. Chauhan points out that unless pitches are rotated frequently and given adequate rest, they wouldn’t yield results. “Pitches are overused these days,” he laments.

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Of course, it is not just the pitch that has to be taken care of. The grass in the outfield is essential, too. Fertiliser and machines are required to maintain it and weed out the dead grass, Chauhan reveals.

For the grass to remain fresh, it needs to have access to adequate sunlight. “Here, for example, we face difficulty during the winters. The grass becomes dormant,” he says.

Finally, the process has to be carried out by an educated support staff – namely, the groundsmen. Chauhan declares, “They are the real heroes.”

However, “until groundsmen are totally educated in the science of pitch-making, we would not be able to see total results,” he cautions.

For, as he points out, it is an art and a science, and there is always much to learn.