Will weather woes lead to focus being on the pitch again? | Cricket

There’s usually little fuss about a T20 wicket. The format is a crowd-puller for the guaranteed entertainment it offers with all the batting fireworks. If that’s what the crowd wants, it’s generally given.

But pitches in Nagpur, the venue of the second T20I on Friday, haven’t historically been that predictable. Indian batters were at the receiving end of a turner during the 2016 T20 World Cup, where they were skittled out for 79 against New Zealand.

But getting an international match after three years, the last thing hosts Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) would want is another pitch controversy.

Word is, the pitch would be batting-friendly. But preparations have been far from ideal. Overcast weather has prevailed throughout the week, forcing the pitch to remain under covers. The Indian team is said to prefer bowlers being tested on a true wicket offering bounce, for that’s what they would encounter during the World Cup in Australia next month. All the three venues for the series – Mohali, Nagpur and Hyderabad – also have relatively longer boundaries, giving a chance for the home side to get used to longer ground dimensions.

Dispute over 22 yards

Focus on the pitch every time there’s an international match here dates back to the green-top offered to Australia in the Test series decider in 2004 at the old Nagpur stadium. Skipper Sourav Ganguly withdrew from the playing 11 at the toss, citing muscle injury. On the eve of the match, he commented that the pitch would play into Australia’s hands. Rahul Dravid led India and the hosts lost by 342 runs.

Cricket board politics may have influenced the preparation of the pitch with then VCA president Shashank Manohar belonging to the rival camp of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who Ganguly was close to. Ganguly’s farewell Test though was at the swanky new Jamtha stadium in 2008.

All the actors in the story will be in attendance on Friday: Ganguly as BCCI president, Dravid as India head coach and Manohar as the guiding light of the association; his son Adwait now heads the VCA.

There have been no signs of truce between the VCA and the current BCCI set-up, not so much for the 2004 incident, but for the ideological differences Manohar had with the BCCI while heading the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Manohar lost all friends in BCCI when he became the first independent chairman of ICC and introduced structural changes which did not suit the Indian board.

The state-of-the-art stadium at Jamtha on the outskirts of the city used to regularly host international games: it hosted four matches of the 2011 ODI World Cup. But it has been allotted only one international (T20I vs Bangladesh in November 2019) during the three-year reign of the current set of BCCI office-bearers.


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