Veteran curator Daljit Singh on the importance of readying a pitch for a match

The pitch tour at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali is a much-awaited event. “It is cricket education,” remarked a veteran scribe. The PCA invites the media group to have a look at the pitch and enlighten itself on the preparation and behaviour pattern of the playing surface. On the eve of the match, it is a not-to-be-missed exercise for every cricket reporter.

The brain behind this pitch tour is former PCA media manager G.S. Walia under the guidance of Daljit Singh, former Services, Northern Punjab, Delhi, Bihar and East Zone wicket-keeper and at present chairman of the Board’s Ground and Pitches Committee.

“I take pride in calling myself a curator,” Daljit asserts. Not long ago, curators were a neglected lot, their role reduced to that of a gardener. It has changed now. “It is not fair to call a curator a glorified ‘mali’. A curator is a trained and integral part of the cricket system. He holds the key to a good contest,” Daljit puts things in perspective. He was part of the first Pitch Committee that was formed in 1997 with a curator from each of the five zones with Kapil Dev as chairman. Today, the Board has 36 certified curators and Daljit is hoping BCCI will soon add Level 1 coaching to the curator’s course.

“It was a dream because no other arm of cricket brings such depth to your job. It is a scientific project involving soils, grass, fertilizers and various other factors with a lot of field work. My day begins early and it requires me to be fit so that I can spend long hours on the field,” says the 71-year-oldt, who has worked at Mohali for 20 years now.

Daljit started with Services when he was enrolled with the Indian Navy. “The Chinese aggression in 1962 meant Services could not play the Ranji Trophy and I took special permission to play for Northern Punjab. I returned to Delhi before moving on to Bihar,” he recalls. For a year, Daljit worked at 10 Janpath, the residence of then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. “His son (Hari Krishan) was interested in cricket and a pitch was prepared inside the PM’s residence,” says Daljit.

A Prime Minister XI versus Bihar Governor’s XI defence fundraising match in Jamshedpur paved the way for Daljit’s employment with Tata Steel. He represented Bihar for 15 years, eight of them as captain, and was part of the team that reached its only Ranji trophy final in 1975-76, losing the title contest to Bombay.

It was in Tatas that Daljit’s love for preparing pitch found its moorings. “I was involved with developmental work, what we called rural and community development, in 300-odd villages. My interest in cricket, specially in pitches and grounds, continued. It was very satisfying to work with the local population and see them progress,” remembers Daljit.

Daljit concentrated on his job at Tata Steel as chief of community and rural development services for 22 years before a three-year stint with Karnataka when he worked at Bangalore for an NGO. But his roots pulled him back to Punjab when I.S. Bindra, on a visit to Bangalore for a Board meeting, offered him a job with the Punjab team and also the up and coming stadium in Mohali. During his involvement with Karnataka, he groomed Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, J. Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad before they had played international cricket.

“I joined as a coach (with a coaching certificate from MCC) before taking up the responsibility of making pitches.” This led to his tryst with the laying of pitches and ground at Mohali. The first Test against the West Indies on a fiery pitch that left Manoj Prabhakar with a broken nose created the folklore of the fastest pitch in India.”

His experience of working in the Tate collieries of Bihar (now Jharkhand) prepared Daljit to bring in a touch of professionalism to his love for preparing pitches. “I presented papers on rural development in England and also earned a Ford Foundation scholarship to U.S. Later, it was a dream to introduce a curators’ course and make the job a professional one.”

His dream has fructified now and he credits BCCI for conducting two certification courses for curators. Now each association has a certified curator. “BCCI allows us a free hand to work on this project and I am happy to say that we are moving in the right direction. I would like young cricketers to take up this vocation and serve the game.”

Daljit, who lost his wife (Krishna) seven years ago, has two doting daughters, Simone, an actor, and Dipannita. “Yoga and jogging keep me fit and my job allows me to stay engaged and busy.” As he reflects, Daljit has spent more time on the cricket field than off it since he stopped playing in 1979.