Tons of runs

Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman... valuable hundreds.-PTI

Bounce is an essential ingredient of a sporting wicket. And it was the lack of bounce that made the contest between bat and ball such a lop-sided one in the second IndianOil Test between India and Pakistan. S. Dinakar reports.

Even if the intent is there, the result is not always seen. The preparation of pitches in the country continues to be under the scanner.

Daljit Singh, who heads the BCCI’s Pitches and Grounds Committee, maintains he is committed to producing sporting pitches in the country. Wickets where bowlers of all kind would not be relegated to the background, where the batsmen would be able to play their strokes.

Bounce is an essential ingredient of a sporting wicket. And it was the lack of bounce that made the contest between bat and ball such a lop-sided one in the second IndianOil Test between India and Pakistan.

India declared at 616 for five, Pakistan avoided the follow-on and from that point the match was heading in one direction, towards a draw.

Playing a Test on such a pitch would have neither helped the Indian batsmen nor the bowlers ahead of an important Test campaign in Australia. The Indian batsmen, in particular, could struggle in the Boxing Day Test.

Despite producing a favourable result for India, the track at the Ferozeshah Kotla was one of low bounce, at least from one end. So where are the sporting pitches in the country?

If we look impartially, only Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai have produced pitches that come closest to be called sporting. Mumbai, though, has blotted its copybook more times preparing rank turners. The Mohali track, under the direct supervision of Daljit, has pace and bounce.

The surface at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium is among the harder ones in the country.

Harbhajan Singh is excited after breaching the defence of Mohammad Yousuf. The spinner picked up five wickets in the first innings.-K.R. DEEPAK

Eden Gardens is a different story. The pitches need an ideal mix of clay and sand in the top layer of six to eight inches, the clay content should not be less than 50 per cent and then the other aspects come into play. The clay content on the pacy Perth pitch is as high as 85 per cent.

The curators have their compulsions in adopting such a formula for the Indian tracks.

South Zone’s representative at the Pitches and Grounds Committee, P. R. Viswanathan, reveals that apart from the pitch content, how the wicket is watered or rolled makes a huge difference.

For instance, if the grass is shaved off as it happens so often in the country about a week or 10 days before the match, we are likely to get a docile pitch.

Explains Viswanathan, “If the grass is removed early and the surface is rolled over the next week or so, the roots become almost non-existent. Even if the grass is removed, you need strong roots to get adequate bounce from the pitch.”

The watering of the surface is critical as well. Not watering the surface will result in the track being dry and spinner-friendly. Such a pitch could break up.

Even if the square is covered during rain, the capillary movement of water can transport it from underneath the outfield to the square and, eventually, the pitch. This is called ‘sweating under the covers.’

The right amount of rolling and watering of the pitch is the key to producing the right kind of pitch. There are occasions, too often for comfort, when the curators do not always get the combination right.

To be fair, they often are under pressure from the hosts to prepare the kind of pitches that would encourage the home team. In India, this would only mean preparing rank turners.

Perhaps, there is some logic in having different pitches in different parts of the world to maintain the identity of that particular place. For instance, when the Aussies tour India the challenge lies in playing on the sub-continental tracks where the ball grips for the spinners.

When the Indians tour Australia or South Africa, the batsmen would have to grapple with seam movement and extra bounce. Welcome to the great cricketing debate.

The answer perhaps lies in preparing pitches where there is bounce and lateral movement for the pacemen in the early stages, and then progressive assistance for the spinners.

The BCCI’s efforts in the past to improve the quality of pitches in the country have included recruiting a curator from New Zealand. Ironically, New Zealand, with the exception of Wellington, has pitches that are on the slower side.

Drop in pitches are in vogue in the Kiwi land. Such a technique is not quite the answer for the Indian conditions. The BCCI attempt was a failed one. The batsmen are certainly not complaining. The weather was dry but it rained runs at Eden Gardens. Wasim Jaffer, with the right mix of offence and defence, constructed his second Test double hundred. He looked elegant and graceful, found the gaps.

Sachin Tendulkar stroked the ball like a maestro but missed a hundred again. Sourav Ganguly eased to his first Test hundred on his home ground and then celebrated like a man who had just discovered a pot of gold. V. V. S. Laxman was majestic, riding on his ability for a hundred at a venue with which he has a symbiotic relationship.

Pakistan erred in selecting a half-fit Shoaib Akhtar. Leg-spinner Danish Kaneria was flat and predictable. The visitor could not check the flow of runs.

The pressures of responding to a mammoth score saw Pakistan bleeding at 150 for six. Then Misbah-ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal responded with contrasting hundreds. Akmal exploited the attacking field-settings to drill the ball into the vast open spaces. Misbah’s temperament was a revelation. He also has footwork and soft hands to cope with spinners.

India ran into another road-block in the form of a straight-batted Mohammad Sami. Pakistan avoided the follow-on. India lacked a paceman with air-speed to penetrate defences on a surface that offered little. Harbhajan bowled with flight and guile to finish with five wickets. In a memorable moment, he beat the accomplished Mohammad Yousuf in the air. India, leading by 160, erred by not opting for the heavy roller at the beginning of its innings. While the heavy roller could bind the surface initially, it can break the track gradually.

Pakistan was finally left with over 340 runs to chase in just over two sessions and an hour on the final day. Younis Khan showed character with a match-saving hundred on a fifth day pitch that still favoured batsmen. Indian spinners have inflicted greater damage with the SG ball, which has a pronounced seam, on such pitches. Now, they were operating with the Kookaburra ball, which has a smaller seam. This ball grips less on the surface.

The bowlers were also let down by some sloppy catching by close-in fielders. India lacked killer instinct. The Aussies would have snaffled up the half chances.

THE SCORES

Second Test, Eden Gardens, Kolkata, Nov. 30-Dec. 4. Match drawn.

India — 1st innings: W. Jaffer c Akmal b Tanvir 202; D. Karthik c Younis Khan b Tanvir 1; R. Dravid c Akmal b Kaneria 50; S. Tendulkar b Kaneria 82; S. Ganguly c Tanvir b Butt 102; V. V. S. Laxman (not out) 112; M. Dhoni (not out) 50; Extras (b-8, lb-5, w-1, nb-3) 17. Total (for five wkts., decl.) 616.

Fall of wickets:

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 24-2-84-0; Tanvir 39-6-166-2; Sami 29-2-99-0; Kaneria 50-7-194-2; Hameed 4-0-24-0; Butt 6.5-0-36-1.

Pakistan — 1st innings: S. Butt c Dravid b Harbhajan 42; Y. Hameed lbw b Kumble 21; Younis Khan c Dhoni b Munaf 43; M. Yousuf b Harbhajan 6; Misbah-ul-Haq (not out) 161; F. Iqbal lbw b Kumble 0; K. Akmal b Harbhajan 119; M. Sami c Jaffer b Laxman 38; S. Tanvir c Dravid b Kumble 0; S. Akhtar c Dravid b Harbhajan 0; D. Kaneria b Harbhajan 0; Extras (b-8, lb-7, w-1, nb-10) 26. Total: 456.

Fall of wickets: 1-38, 2-77, 3-85, 4-134, 5-150, 6-357, 7-448, 8-449, 9-452.

India bowling: Zaheer 25.2-8-69-0; Munaf 21-4-85-1; Harbhajan 45.5-9-122-5; Kumble 47-14-122-3; Tendulkar 7-1-32-0; Ganguly 4-1-9-0; Laxman 1-0-2-1.

India — 2nd innings: W. Jaffer b Kaneria 56; D. Karthik c Misbah-ul-Haq b Kaneria 28; M. Dhoni b Akhtar 37; S. Ganguly b Akhtar 46; R. Dravid (not out) 8; Extras (lb-3, nb-6) 9. Total (for four wkts., decl.) 184.

Fall of wickets: 1-75, 2-95, 3-166, 4-184.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 12.4-0-46-2; Tanvir 9-0-41-0; Sami 5-1-28-0; Kaneria 15-0-61-2; Butt 1-0-5-0.

Pakistan — 2nd innings: Y. Hameed c & b Zaheer 14; K. Akmal b Kumble 14; S. Butt lbw b Kumble 11; Younis Khan (not out) 107; Misbah-ul-Haq b Munaf 6; M. Yousuf (not out) 44; Extras (b-8, lb-6, nb-4) 18. Total (for four wkts.) 214.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-37, 3-65, 4-78.

India bowling: Zaheer 8-0-32-1; Kumble 25-4-73-2; Munaf 10-3-21-1; Harbhajan 31-5-67-0; Tendulkar 3-0-7-0.