Technology has become a major part of modern-day cricket but the 22-yard strip remains a significant topic of discussion even in today’s day and age. The Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune has a reputation of producing tricky pitches, the most recent being in the opening Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier this year. The Test match ended inside days with 40 wickets falling for just 757 runs and Australia scoring a thumping 333-run victory.
After losing the first One-Day International against New Zealand last Sunday, India were keen to level the three-match in Pune on Wednesday (October 25). Hours before the start of the game, reports of the MCA Stadium’s curator Pandurang Salgaonkar leaking inside information to undercover reporters and allegedly agreeing to tamper with the pitch to suit two bowlers surfaced, resulting in the curator being suspended and barred by the Board of Control for Cricket in India from entering the premises till the investigations have run their course. After a thorough investigation of the pitch by Chris Broad, the ICC match referee, the second ODI went ahead as per schedule.
Cricket is no stranger to pitch-related controversies. Take, for example, the fifth ODI between India and Sri Lanka at the Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi in December 2009. The visitors were put in by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a decision which was soon vindicated as Zaheer Khan castled Upul Tharanga off the first ball of the match. The pitch behaved treacherously thereafter with most balls keeping low but the odd one kicking up to inflict serious body blows to the Sri Lankan batsmen. After 23.3 overs and a lengthy discussion between the officials and both skippers, the game was abandoned as the pitch was deemed ‘too dangerous’ for further play.
Sri Lanka and India were involved in another abandoned ODI in Indore in 1997. Off the first 18 balls of the game, 12 bowled by India’s spearhead Javagal Srinath, the bounce off the surface oscillated from shin to shoulder level pretty much off the same area, which riled Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lankan skipper. Eventually, the game was called off after just three overs Ranatunga and Sachin Tendulkar, the two skippers, agreed to play a 25-over exhibition game which served as a wonderful gesture for the huge crowd that had gathered at the match venue in Indore.
The Kotla pitch was at the cynosure of another controversy exactly 10 years prior to this incident. Pakistan were due to tour India, much to the dismay of a political party in Maharashtra. Some three weeks prior to the first Test scheduled in Chennai, a group of 25 people vandalised the Kotla pitch, the venue for the second and final Test of the series. After much deliberation and beefing up of security, the tour went ahead as per schedule and the Kotla pitch was in readiness for the second Test in the first week of February. It was a game that saw Anil Kumble take all 10 wickets in the fourth innings of the game, a feat achieved just twice in the history of all international cricket.
Another game that springs to mind is the Test between England and Windies at Sabina Park in Kingston in January 1998. Only 61 balls in the opening Test of the series were enough for the officials to stop play on account of a dangerous pitch. England were tottering at 17 for 3, bravely opting to bat first after winning the toss. The bruise count until the 61st delivery of the morning forced the umpires to ask the players to leave the field.