All eyes on Nagpur pitch

After two low-scoring encounters in rank turners, ICC is leaving no stone unturned in trying to avoid a hat-trick of disastrous wickets for international games in the Orange City. Specialists have been called in to oversee the preparations and give the teams a fair wicket to play on.

South African captain Faf du Plessis inspects the pitch in Nagpur on Thursday.   -  K_R_DEEPAK

Jamtha wicket in Nagpur has been in news for all the wrong reasons. Five months ago, a Test match between India and South Africa ended in less than three days. The next match — the opening group stage match of the World T20 between India and New Zealand — was played on a square turner.

The International Cricket Committee, it seems, is leaving no stone unturned in trying to avoid a hat-trick of disastrous wickets for international games in the Orange City.

Over the last five days, there has been frantic action inside the square at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium. Andy Atkinson, the ICC pitch consultant, headed straight to Nagpur after arriving in India. The BCCI also summoned Samandar Singh Chauhan, the Madhya Pradesh curator with a reputation of being a flat-bed specialist, in place of the ailing Taposh Chatterjee, the Rajasthan curator who oversaw the preparation of the last week’s pitch.

New strip

One of the first decisions Atkinson and Chauhan made was to switch both the remaining games from the strip that hosted the Test and WT20 opener to an adjoining one.

But that hasn’t encouraged the South African camp much. “When we got here, the wicket was very dry and we just prepared ourselves accordingly to play on it. Obviously it’s changed a bit now, we’re not playing on the same wicket,” captain Faf du Plessis said, ahead of his team’s crucial match against in-form West Indies.

“I assume that the reason they’re changing it is because they don’t want it as dry, or not to spin as much as it possibly could have on that dry surface. But it’s still two teams competing and it is possibly going to be a spinning deck, so I don’t think too much will change.”

Later in the evening, Atkinson instructed the ground staff to uncover the strip that was under the wraps the whole day, possibly to survive the beating sun. He then showered freshly cut grass after watering the wicket and rolled it over for almost half an hour. If Atkinson’s last-ditch efforts end up turning the strip into a fair wicket, the cricket fans will be hoping for a much balanced contest rather than the toss being the decisive factor.

The first fortnight of WT20 has seen too many extreme kinds of wickets, thus making conditions the most vital factor in the outcome of the matches. Du Plessis was surprised with such a variety of wickets. “To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be like this. Obviously after playing a lot of IPL cricket for years now, I’ve found that wickets have generally been quite good and consistent. Barring one or two games, you generally get similar runs on the board right through all the venues. This World Cup, it’s been a little different,” he said.