Pitches in the Indian Premier League (IPL) have by and large been pretty good over the years even if some matches got affected by dew, the anticipation of which made captains field on winning the toss at a couple of venues.
There have been matches that got decided by the toss itself as the teams knew the conditions. One doesn’t hear about unacceptable pitches in the IPL.
So, the pitch at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium at Chennai’s Chepauk for the inaugural game of the popular tournament on Saturday seemed to have puzzled both the players as well as the authorities.
It was certainly not a 70-run pitch the Royal Challengers Bangalore mustered for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to hit them off for the loss of three wickets.
In sports, losers see positives and Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli was happy that they were through with the CSK match straightaway and also for taking the game into the 18th over of a Twenty20 match.
The slow-paced track had enough spin to leave the batsmen guessing, but as Man-of-the-Match Harbhajan Singh said, the wicket was difficult to bat but not unplayable.
Accomplished batsmen Kohli, A.B. de Villiers and Moeen Alli tried to go after the off-spinner, but ended up looking ungainly while getting dismissed.
Harbhajan cheekily spoke like a bowler, saying people are so used to watching matches on good wickets where no one complains when people score 170-180, but if it spins or seams a little, everyone has a problem.
Harbhajan’s captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who bowled him and medium-pacer Deepak Chahar at the other end out for eight overs, was not in agreement with him. He was quite frank in admitting that it was not a wicket his team would like to play on, the pitch has to be a lot better if his CSK has to be consistently good at home.
Dhoni put it in perspective: “I feel if the wicket stays like this, it will be tough for us also, even with dew it was still spinning big.” That’s not a good advertisement for a Twenty20 game.
The players, particularly those who still think they can force the selectors to make changes in the World Cup squad, will be worried more about the pitches like the one in Chennai. They would like to have a level-playing field. But then the players will have to be ready for all eventualities if they think they are good enough to play in England this summer.
No two pitches are alike, but in the shortest and the latest format of cricket, people want to see big shots and high scoring. Just as 300-plus has become the new normal in the 50-over game, chasing 200 plus in Twenty20 would be as exciting. For high-scoring matches, the pitches have to be true and firm with the elements throwing in a wee bit.
The argument that good pitches will take away the relevance of toss from the game was not acceptable to the authorities as uniform pitches cannot be guaranteed.
Even the drop-in pitches have come in for a lot criticism and Australia. These pitches are laid outside and transported to the stadium. The problem is more in Australia where at the MCG, the Adelaide Oval and the Perth’s Optus stadium host not only cricket but also football, rugby and AFL games, forcing the authorities to go in for drop-in pitches.
The MCG pitch, in particular, is under the International Cricket Council (ICC) watch and may even lose right to host Test matches if the pitches continue to be substandard.
India had their share of bad pitches, including Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla, which came in for severe criticism after it was considered dangerous and the one-dayer against Sri Lanka was abandoned in 2009. Twelve years before Sri Lankans figured in another abandoned game at Indore.
The Chepauk pitch was not dangerous. All the same it may not pass muster for an IPL match and after listening to Dhoni, the authorities will surely do something to get it in order.
The IPL is played in the summer months and there are venues where water is a problem. There politics take over, like it did in Mumbai when Maharashtra was hit by drought. The Bombay High Court went to the extent to saying watering pitches in a drought-hit state is criminal and telling the IPL authorities to think of shifting the matches outside the state.
Twenty20 means excitement and for that good pitches are a must.
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