T20 World Cup: Pitch imperfect raises concern about India-Pakistan showdown

Infrastructure in the US look a work in progress, puts ICC on the backfoot

Team India after winning a T20 World Cup match against Ireland (photo: PTI)
Team India after winning a T20 World Cup match against Ireland (photo: PTI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The choice of the US as co-hosts for the ongoing T20 World Cup is certainly an ambitious one, but their readiness to stage a marquee tournament seems to be still a work in progress. The treacherous wicket at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York, where India opened their campaign with an eight-wicket win against Ireland on Wednesday, has raised the hackles ahead of the high-voltage India-Pakistan game scheduled at the same venue on Sunday, 9 June.

‘’Shocking,’’ was how former England captain Michael Vaughan tried to qualify the wicket while Michael Atherton found it ‘’very poor.’’ Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, tried to underplay the concerns about the unpredictable behaviour of the pitch as he retired hurt after a resilient 50 but admitted that they opted to field as they didn’t know ‘what to expect’ from the drop-in pitch. The damning criticism has set the alarm bells ringing at the International Cricket Council (ICC), which has promised to salvage the situation.

In a statement, the world governing body said: ‘’T20 Inc and the ICC recognise that the pitches used so far at the Nassau County International Stadium have not played as consistently as we all would have wanted.’’

It's a no-brainer that despite the cream of world cricket converging in the land of the NFL, the success of the tournament and the future of the sport there will hinge a lot on the quality of the competition in the June 9 game.  The venue is expected to be filled to its capacity of 34,000 where the highest-priced tickets on the official site cost as high as $10,000. A low-scoring game, much as one witnessed on Wednesday with batters struggling, is certainly going to be a bad advertisement for the sport early on. 

Incidentally, the ICC had taken pride in the wonder that the drop-in pitches were going to be in World T20 as four main pitches and six drop-in surfaces were prepared in Florida and transported to New York for the event. However, what may not have been possibly factored in was the fact that drop-in pitches take time to settle - with the curator also saying that the surfaces will only get better with time.

If the contrasting bounce at different times was not enough – the grass at the outfield was often heavy and stopped the balls from racing to the boundaries.  There were puffs of sand visible as the ball ran along the carpet and with the bigger boundaries on play, one may count out IPL-like totals. Speaking from experience, Daljit Singh, former BCCI chief curator felt the drop-in pitches should have been installed well in advance. ‘’It is a poor pitch. The drop-in pitch needs to be installed well in advance. To create density, you need to play on it and use different rollers and then increase the density,’’ he observed.

The sequence of events in the India-Ireland game has been quite disconcerting -  first Irish captain Paul Stirling was undone by a sharply bouncing delivery that crept up from length and led to a top edge. Harry Tector was then hit on the gloves by another Arshdeep delivery and shook his fingers in pain. A little later, he was dismissed by a Jasprit Bumrah delivery that darted into him, taking an inside edge onto his helmet on the way to the cover fielder.

Later, Rohit retired hurt after he was hit on the shoulder by a Josh Little delivery. Rishabh Pant, too, copped a blow to his elbow after missing a shot off the same bowler and needed a visit from the physio before resuming.

Even before talk about the wickets began, the India camp had been vocal about the amateurish practice facilities offered to them. Head coach Rahul Dravid had admitted to training at a public park but added it had been an ‘enjoyable’ experience for them. It’s time to wait and watch about how it all pans out in the coming weeks!  

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