It was a one-sided Ranji Trophy final caused by the texture of the surface that encouraged lift and lateral movement. The BCCI officials watching the match on television are reported to have appreciated the quality of the pitch and the effort put in by Sudhir Naik and his ground staff.
Saurashtra was beaten hollow because of its batsmen’s lack of skill to counter deliveries that raised questions the moment it left the seamers’ hands and pitched in the right areas.
On the eve of the final former India Test opener and Wankhede Stadium curator Naik declared the pitch would afford bounce and seam on the first three days and bring the spinners into the picture on the fourth and fifth days.
His prediction for the first three days, at least, was proved right. The fourth and fifth days did not come into the picture as Mumbai trounced Saurashtra in the post-tea session on the third day.
But 24 hours before Naik had made the telling statement, Saurashtra’s veteran left-hander Sitanshu Kotak — having seen the wicket from a distance — had gone to the extent of predicting the outcome of the match.
The 40-year-old batsman, who figures in the top bracket of the highest scorers in Ranji Trophy, was asked whether Saurashtra had the better spin attack.
Just after the team’s practice session Kotak said his team had a variety of spin bowlers, but wondered whether they would get help on the first three days.
“I think we have a superior spin attack because of the way we have performed on turning tracks. We have the variety. But, I am not sure if they will be useful on this wicket. On a Wankhede wicket with a little bit of grass, I would be surprised if the ball turns much on the first three or four days. I think the wicket would be lively for seam bowlers and the match will probably be decided by the third or fourth day,” said Kotak.
Saurashtra’s batsmen floundered with the notable exception of young left-hander Aarpit Vasavada, who has already earned the sobriquet “Kotak 2” for his dour batting approach. The first-time finalist gave away 17 wickets to the Mumbai seamers (Ajit Agarkar, Dhawal Kulkarni and Abhishek Nayar) and came a cropper, dismissed for 82 in the second innings. Mumbai took full advantage of winning the toss and straightaway mounted pressure on its rival.
The pitch may have completely taken Saurashtra off guard, but the stunning turn of events in the final has given plenty to ponder for the BCCI and its Ground and Pitches Committee members in Daljit Singh, P.R. Viswanathan, Ashish Bhowmick, Taposh Chatterjee and Sudhir Naik.
It’s essentially a matter of persuading the full members of the BCCI to prepare sporting pitches that brings the fast bowlers into action, assists strokeplay and then offers help for the spinners and not prepare pitches that become flat after the first session of the first day and allow batsmen to amass runs.
“The BCCI’s general direction to the State associations is to prepare lively tracks that support the batsmen and bowlers. BCCI Secretary Sanjay Jagdale has emphasised this aspect many times to the associations. We are getting positive feedback from some centres and hopeful that all associations will make result-oriented pitches,” said Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, General Manager — Game Development, BCCI.
A handful of associations have followed the BCCI guidelines, but many chose to defy and make pitches to meet the requirements of their teams. Harbhajan Singh said the pitch at Mohali was like a garden and hence they could trounce Hyderabad, Bengal, Saurashtra and Rajasthan in home matches with seamers Manpreet Grewal, Siddharth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma taking 106 wickets. Saurashtra too benefited making pitches that assisted its spinners.
The BCCI has employed Venkat Sundaram (Delhi), Ratul Das (Assam), Sunil Chauhan (Himachal Pradesh), Samundar Singh (Madhya Pradesh), Dhiraj Parsana (Gujarat), Narayan Satham (Baroda) and Narayan Raju (Karnataka) to help in the preparation of sporting pitches.
Daljit Singh, P.R. Viswanathan, Ashish Bhowmick, Taposh Chatterjee and Sudhir Naik have an excellent track record, but they have unfinished work to be completed in order to make India’s domestic cricket truly vibrant and help the process of creating international cricketers.